Disparities in Access to Nutritious Food: Food Deserts

For many low-income households in the U.S., access to a supermarket or a large grocery store with nutritious food is severely narrow. These households live in “food deserts”, which are regions where people have limited access to food. Food deserts tend to be located in low-income communities, where their residents are forced to travel farther to find healthy food options. However, many of these households lack the resources to reach these destinations, such as cars, thus forcing them to rely on unhealthy, fast-food which is far more plentiful in their communities. Food deserts are a physical manifestation of food inequity in the U.S., where accessibility to nutritious food has become a differentiator between social classes in America.

A food desert neighborhood may lack a supermarket because of the costs food retailers face when building or operating a store in low-income locations, as the price of land or rent may be higher in food-desert areas. Furthermore, zoning rules, such as the amount of parking required for new businesses, hinder grocery store development in these regions because they make establishment more costly. Food deserts also tend to be located far from convenient delivery routes and some may have security concerns that raise a store’s operating costs as a result.

Similarly, grocery stores opt to locate in more affluent and densely populated areas because these regions can support more stores and generate higher revenue for grocers. Food expenditures increase as income rises, which explains why higher-income neighborhoods have more supermarkets than lower-income neighborhoods.

Currently, policies promoting equitable food accessibility have been implemented, such as the Healthy Bodegas and Health Bucks programs in New York Cities. While such public policy interventions strive to increase access to affordable and nutritious food, residents’ health will not improve without food-purchasing behavior changes or the knowledge to prepare healthy foods. Instead, nutritional guidance to change dietary habits and public policies that increase accessibility must work simultaneously to effectively address food deserts and ensure provisions of healthy food in underserved areas.


  1. https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2010/march/access-to-affordable-nutritious-food-is-limited-in-food-deserts/
  2. https://cleanlabelproject.org/blog-post/food-equity-our-social-awakening/?gclid=CjwKCAiAqaWdBhAvEiwAGAQlthGJ0PKXI-CwCiw9ccSUoHaTWbBuSsMwjJf9WDgauq7H9GH04JsRhhoCzqkQAvD_BwE