Workshop Proceeding

The Public Health Effects of Food Deserts: Workshop Summary (2009)

In the United States, people living in low-income neighborhoods frequently do not have access to affordable healthy food venues, such as supermarkets. Instead, those living in "food deserts" must rely on convenience stores and small neighborhood stores that offer few, if any, healthy food choices, such as fruits and vegetables. Data show that these same neighborhoods frequently have high rates of diet-related diseases, such as obesity and diabetes. Although providing access to healthy foods may not immediately reverse these problems, access to healthy food choices is one of many factors contributing to good health.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC) convened a two-day workshop on January 26-27, 2009, to provide input into a Congressionally-mandated food deserts study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. The workshop provided a forum in which to discuss the public health effects of food deserts. Speakers offered suggestions on how to measure and understand the extent to which food deserts occur in the United States; their impact on individuals' behavior and the resultant health effects; and promising strategies for increasing the availability of fruits and vegetables in communities. Organizers hope that by further understanding food deserts, policymakers and others can identify ways to improve the availability of affordable and healthy food and ultimately improve health.