Food Desert Spread US

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US Food Desert Trends

Food deserts in the United States is a prevalent problem. Of the 65,000 tracts in the United States, nearly 10% of them are food deserts according to the USDA. Data for food deserts is not publicly available on a yearly basis. We were able to find key statistics on food insecurity, which is a prevalent part of determining food deserts. The percentage of the U.S. population of food insecure individuals has ranged from a high of 15% to the current 12.5% over the past 10 years. In 2010, it was reported there were 18 million Americans living in food deserts and this number was 23.5 million in 2011.


A tract is considered a food desert if at least 33 percent (500 people) of the population live more than one mile from a grocery store and in rural tracts, the distance to a grocery store is more than 10 miles. Unfortunately, this number is most likely greater than reported since the North American Industry Classification System qualifies small corner grocery stores the same as grocery stores such as Safeway and Whole Foods. These small corner stores typically only sell packaged food which doesn't meet the quality food standards.

Food Deserts

As reported in The Week, 23.5 million Americans lived in food deserts in 2011. Of this group, the USDA reported that the many of rural areas included were in locations of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. It also includes areas that are urban like New York City, Chicago, and Detroit. More than 2% of all US households (nearly 2.3 million people) live in these rural, low-income areas.

Americans that live in food deserts are typically families that are a minority and low-income earners. In the past decade, there has been a rise and decline of food insecurity in American households. In 2008, 14.6% of the U.S. population lived with food insecurity and this remained steady through 2010. There was a rise to almost 15% in 2011 and then a drop again by 2014 to 14%. Both 2015 and 2016 showed declines at 12.7% and 12.5%, respectively. According to USDA, 15 states were above the U.S. average and 16 states were near the U.S. average for food insecurity based on data from 2014 to 2016. Mississippi held a high at 18.7% of households with food insecurity.

The U.S. News and World Report posted an article stating America's top 75 food retailers opened 10,000 new locations over a 4-year span of 2011 to 2015. This would lead you to believe that a good portion of them might be located in food deserts, however, when the Associated Press broke it down, only 250 of these 10,000 locations were supermarkets in the food desert areas. The remaining were convenience stores and dollar stores which do not provide fresh meal options. As of 2010, there were more than 18 million U.S. citizens in food deserts. Approximately 2% of the population didn't have access to a vehicle and live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store.

MAP of Food Deserts

The USDA provides a heat map that indicates the tracts that have food deserts. It includes key data for both 2010 and 2015 and can be selected by location. This data will provide population, vehicle access, and supermarket availability for each tract selected. In looking at the map, North Dakota has more sparse tracts of food deserts, whereas Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Texas and California have more widespread tracts of food deserts.


In summary, food desert areas in the United States are still a widespread problem. In 2010 and 2011, there were 18 million and 23.5 million Americans living in food deserts respectively. Data for food deserts was very sparse other than looking through the map at each individual location. The current map shows North Dakota with the fewest tracts of food deserts and Arizona and New Mexico with the most. We were able to find statistics on food insecurity over the past decade which has seen a rise and decline in insecurity. The current food insecurity percentage reported in 2016 was 12.5%. While America's top grocery stores have attempted to bring more stores to the areas, the majority of the food deserts get corner stores and dollar stores, which typically only provides prepackaged food, which doesn't help the food desert population.

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