June 19 2024 03:47 PM

Millions of Americans do not have access to healthy foods due to their location.

June is the month that we celebrate all the good dairy products do for our bodies. Unfortunately, that nutrition doesn’t mean much to people who cannot access it.

Food insecurity, defined as when a household has difficulty providing sufficient food for all its members because of a lack of resources, affected about 13% of U.S. households in 2022, according to USDA. Despite the work of many groups that take efforts to combat hunger, this was higher than 2021 data.

Some of these Americans deal with food insecurity because they live in what may be referred to as a “food desert.” USDA recognizes a “low-income and low-access” area when more than one-third of the population in an urban area lives further than one mile from a supermarket or more than one-third of a rural population lives more than 10 miles from a supermarket.

Millions of people live in food deserts across the country, but not all of them may necessarily be classified as food insecure. That’s because living in a food desert doesn’t mean you don’t have access to food items or the means to purchase them, but it refers to a lack of affordable access to healthy food choices. Often, the best option for purchasing affordable food in these environments are convenience stores, which tend to stock more shelf-stable, processed foods than fresh fruits, vegetables, or even dairy products.

Food deserts occur in both urban and rural communities; a lack of transportation, high prices, and understocked items all contribute to creating a food desert in addition to distance from a grocery store. A greater number of food deserts occur in urban areas, but a higher percentage of people in rural areas live in what is classified as a food desert. Lower income areas are the hardest hit by food deserts.

Unsurprisingly, living in a food desert raises a person’s risk of poor nutrition and subsequent health problems. This includes long-lasting concerns like obesity or heart disease.

There is no simple solution to improving healthy food access in these communities because attracting grocery store investments generally requires significant economic and social changes from many levels. Community gardens provide one option for increasing the access to vegetables and fruits. Food banks may also be scarce, but they are another way to offer dairy products and other healthy options when possible.

If you are fortunate to have easy access to healthy, affordable food choices, do not take it for granted. Dairy farmers handle a nutritious food product every day, but ensuring it gets to people who want it is not always simple. June is a perfect time to find a way to help those in your area who may not be able to readily access healthy foods that fuel their bodies — and your communities.

Katelyn Allen

Katelyn Allen joined the Hoard’s Dairyman team as the Publications Editor in August 2019 and is now an associate editor. Katelyn is a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech, where she majored in dairy science and minored in communication. Katelyn grew up on her family’s registered Holstein dairy, Glen-Toctin Farm, in Jefferson, Md.