USDA Creates Online Food Desert Locator
MAY 10, 2011
As part of Michelle Obama’s multi billion-dollar effort to bring healthy foods to low-income neighborhoods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched an internet-based mapping tool that identifies areas with “limited access to affordable and nutritious foods.”The government’s new “Food Desert Locator” will assist the First Lady’s costly initiative to revolutionize the inner-city diet by providing fresh produce and grilled lean meats as alternatives to greasy, fried foods that tend to me more popular in those areas. A few months ago the president signed a $4.5 billion measure to provide affordable healthy fare such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk in neighborhoods determined by the administration to be “food deserts.”To simplify the process the USDA created the sophisticated online tool that, not only pinpoints food deserts around the country, but also provides data on “population characteristics of census tracts” where residents have limited access to affordable and nutritious cuisine. This will assist efforts to expand the availability of healthy foods in low-income communities that lack “ready access” to it, according to Obama’s USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack.”This new Food Desert Locator will help policy makers, community planners, researchers, and other professionals identify communities where public-private intervention can help make fresh, healthy, and affordable food more readily available to residents,” Vilsack said in a press release announcing the online tool this month.The Obama Administration coined the phrase “food deserts” a few years ago and created a “working group” from various federal agencies to determine which areas qualify. For the most part, they are identified as low-income census tracts in which a “substantial number” of residents have “low access” to a supermarket or large grocery store. The USDA estimates that about 13.5 million people live in food deserts nationwide, with the majority (82%) in urban areas.As an example, the agency offers Cook County in Illinois with 39 food desert census tracts. More than 81,000 residents have “low access” to a supermarket, the USDA says, and its new Food Desert Locator can zoom in and view street names, other neighborhood features and “community characteristics.” The USDA division (Economic Research Service) that came up with this brilliant tool got $87 million from taxpayers this year (an increase of $8 million over the previous year) to develop these sorts of mechanisms.
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