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Many Texans Find Themselves Living in "Food Deserts"

March 15, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas - If your weekly trip to the grocery store is quite a trek, you're not alone. A recent study finds that parts of Texas are "food deserts" - meaning residents must travel 10 miles or more to find a supermarket.

Improving access to markets would improve health, the Food Trust report says, and also would create jobs and revenue for communities. According to Food Trust program manager Miriam Minon, people living in underserved areas eat fewer fruits and vegetables, and are more apt to be overweight.

"Residents are likely to experience high rates of diet-related disease; things like diabetes and obesity."

Stores in small communities are not always stocked with an adequate variety of fresh and healthy foods, according to the study. Inadequate transportation often leads to rural food deserts, it says, but it can also be a factor in urban areas such as East Austin. The study finds that unincorporated colonias along the Texas-Mexico border tend to be farther from stores than other communities with similar populations.

The report makes recommendations for how to help communities open and support local grocery stores. Minon says a number of successful models pull together both private and public interests. She cites the Fresh Food Financing Initiative in Pennsylvania as an example, helping developers overcome some of the high initial costs.

"The program has been able to get stores to open all across the state in previously underserved areas, and to help existing grocers who are interested in expanding their offerings."

Improving access to healthy food won't automatically improve eating habits, Minon says, but it is an important part of dealing with obesity.

More information is online at thefoodtrust.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX