The Urban Food Crisis

What is an Urban Food Desert?


  • The USDA defines a food desert as an “area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities.”
  • The USDA estimates that 23.5 million Americans (8.4% of the country) live in areas with low or limited access to grocery stores with fresh produce and healthy foods.
  • Direct questions from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households in 2001 show that up to 5.7 percent of all U.S. households did not always have the food they wanted or needed because of access-related problems. Households that live far from a supermarket and that do not have vehicles likely have limited access to nutritious food. Of all households in the U.S., 2.3 million, or 2.2 percent, live more than a mile from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle. An additional 3.4 million households, or 3.2 percent of all households, live between one-half to 1 mile and do not have access to a vehicle.
  • Interestingly, while the USDA recognizes food deserts as a crisis, the problem may be worse than they indicate due to flawed data.  The Food Empowerment Project, a non-profit located in the Silicon Valley, found that:
    “Part of the problem is how the US government’s North American Industry Classification System (NAICS is the standard used by the federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments) categorizes retail outlets that sell food. According to the NAICS code, small corner grocery stores are statistically lumped together with supermarkets, such as Safeway, Whole Foods Market, etc. In other words, a community with no supermarket and two corner grocery stores that offer liquor and food would be counted as having two retail food outlets even though the food offered may be extremely limited and consist mainly of junk food.”

Who is impacted?

Demographic characteristics of food desers

Fighting obesity in Philadelphia

Why should we care?

  • In the U.S. today, we produce more than enough food to feed the American population.  Unfortunately, that food is not even distributed among the population.  Due to lack of access and/or lack of funds, a large number of Americans do not have access to the healthy food they need.  Single family minority households have the highest rate of food insecurity.  
  • The prevalence of obesity among American youth overall increased to 16.3% in 2006, from 5% in 1980, but some 28% of non-Hispanic black females between ages 12 and 19 are obese, as are about 20% of Mexican-American females (the statistic for non-Hispanic white females in the same age group is 14.5%). In congressional testimony earlier this year, a top official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified food deserts as a cause of these grim statistics.Read more:,8599,1900947,00.html#ixzz2KhYyrflm

Can you provide for your family while earning minimum wage?

Do you think you have what it takes to provide food, shelter the basic necessities while earning only minimum wage?  If so, play the online simulation “Spent”.