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Addressing Food Deserts In The Land of Plenty

Guest Post by Brian Kennell, Tetra Pak president and CEO for the U.S. and Canada

From just-squeezed juices to artisan sandwiches to colorful bunches of fresh-picked vegetables, nutritious dietary offerings have never been so bountiful or convenient for affluent Americans. They can legitimately browse for gourmet-quality dinners inside local supermarkets as well as convenience stores or trendy “small box” neighborhood groceries.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for some 23.5 million largely underserved U.S. residents who live in “food deserts,” areas where grocery stores are absent, and food options frequently range from fast food to corner mini-marts, where chips, soda pop, candy, cakes and snack packs are more likely to line the shelves than fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and meat; whole-grain bread, pasta and cereal; or high-quality dairy and all-fruit juice drinks. Many food desert residents, without access to foodstuffs that allow them to eat three full, nutritious meals a day, regularly lack food security.

Food Deserts and Health

Unsurprisingly, because residents have access to and consume foods that tend to be high in sugar, fat and salt, food deserts are strongly correlated with higher rates of obesity and other nutrition-influenced chronic diseases, note academic studies such as “Distance to store, food prices, and obesity in urban food deserts” in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. First Lady Michelle Obama noted this four years ago when she made eradicating food deserts to stem food insecurity one of the goals of her “Let’s Move” Campaign. But the issue has proved just as intractable as it is complex.

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