The just-cancelled ‘Nightly Show’ starring Larry Wilmore had a segment last March about ‘food deserts.’ The show’s reporter interviewed Esther Fuchs, of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia. She commented on a report that “some 23 and a half million people in America, including some six and a half million children,” live in “food deserts” – places, often in major cities, where fresh fruits and vegetables simply aren’t available. Those people, Fuchs said, “live in areas more than one mile from a supermarket selling fruits and vegetables.”
To check this out, Reporter Jordan Carlos went to Camden, New Jersey, right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the fifth-largest city in the U.S. He started walking in a poor-looking neighborhood, searching for a store selling fruits and vegetables. He had to travel five miles before he encountered one!
Given that part of his trek was along a rail line, you can assume his ‘finding’ was slightly exaggerated – but only slightly. I live in a far-from-poor small town, and I’m well over a mile from the nearest “supermarket selling fruits and vegetables”. There is a small food store roughly half a mile from me. But its produce selection is so poor it seems to be oriented toward the town’s least-discriminating food shoppers.
And that’s a shame, for several reasons. Key among them is the fact – as reported August 15 in the journal Circulation (paywall) – that people who can’t shop locally for fresh produce are more likely to have early signs of heart disease. Michigan-based researchers (from, among others, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Grand Valley State University) studied data from nearly 6,000 adults who had an initial heart CT scan and several follow-up scans over 12 years. The availability of fresh food near their homes was key to the condition of their arteries, their study declared.
“We found that healthy food stores within one mile of their home was the only significant factor that reduced or slowed the progression of calcium buildup in coronary arteries,” co-lead author Ella August said in a journal news release. She is a clinical assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“Our results point to a need for greater awareness of the potential health threat posed by the scarcity of healthy grocery options in certain neighborhoods,” August added.
Co-lead author Jeffrey Wing said, “The thought is that greater access to healthier foods may have promoted healthier diets and, in turn, less coronary plaque formation.” Wing is an assistant professor of public health at Grand Valley State University.
The American Heart Association recommends a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry and fish. It also advises people to eat foods low in saturated and trans-fats and sodium, and to limit their intake of added sugars and red meats.