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OpinionA key ingredient of healthy living is often a struggle. Here’s how to fix that.
May 26, 2023 at 7:30 a.m. EDT
D.C.’sWards 7and 8,largely east of the Anacostia River, are home to nearly 150,000 residents — and just three full-service grocery stores selling fresh produce. Though residents can shop at corner groceries and fast-food chains, many have no access to healthy ingredients. Trying to get them could involvespending hundredsof dollars on long and involved commutes or driving miles through traffic. Often, people resort to prepackaged options closer to home.
Southeast D.C. is hardly alone.According todata collected in 2019 by the Agriculture Department, 18.8 million people lived in low-income neighborhoods more than a mile from the nearest supermarket in cities, or more than 10 miles away in rural areas. A further 34.8 million people lived in low-income urban areas more than half a mile from one — a daunting distance for people with limited access to vehicles.
While so-called food deserts — communities with limited access to affordable, high-quality fresh food — have been rife for decades, the covid-19 pandemic cast a spotlight on these conditions. As stores, restaurants and food vendors closed or reduced their hours, many households had no choice but to depend on processed or canned foods with high levels of sugar, fat and sodium. Such foods areassociated withincreased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressureand cancer— all of which afflict low-income people disproportionately.
A 2019 study found that if Americans ate healthier, the savings in health-care costs could amount tonearly $90 billion annually. But solving the access riddle will not be easy. Food deserts — and “food swamps,” communities where unhealthy options abound — arethe resultof overlapping inequitable policies that divided communities by race, income and class. Still, innovative policies and interventions could help alleviate this burden — and in some localities, that work is already underway.