An Evaluation of the Food Desert Definition in Durham, North Carolina
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Urban food deserts are low-income communities located more than one mile from a vendor that supplies affordable, healthy food options. According to the USDA, 11.5 million Americans nationwide live in food desert areas. Before policymakers can effectively address food deserts, however, the parameters of food deserts need to be more clearly defined. This research challenges the two primary criteria currently used by USDA to define food deserts, distance from a grocery store and community socio-economic status, and presents new characteristics, which are vital to a redefinition. Additionally, it highlights the many barriers to accessing fruits and vegetables in low-income communities, and how these barriers can be used to more comprehensively define food deserts within the context of Durham, North Carolina. This study conducted eight focus groups in low-income communities in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina to determine barriers to accessing fruits and vegetables. Additionally, this study used geospatial (GIS) analysis to locate food deserts in Durham, using the USDA’s criteria. The GIS map in this study used finer scale census block data to locate food deserts. Twenty-four major barriers to accessing fruits and vegetables emerged from the data. These barriers were found through researcher memos and qualitative coding in NVivo, a qualitative analysis software. From these twenty-four barriers, fourteen criteria were created to redefine food deserts. Each criterion was chosen based on how easily a local policymaker could access the data associated with the criterion. GIS results found that food deserts, when mapped with finer scale census block level data, more narrowly located food desert communities in Durham. The fourteen criteria used to define food deserts in this study, coupled with the GIS map produced from the study, could help Durham policymakers more accurately identify food deserts and help them devise more comprehensive policy solutions to eradicate them.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Rights for Collection: Nicholas School of the Environment