Hunger isn’t something on everyone’s minds, but for those who live in food deserts, people have to make sacrifices to eat – whether that means going to a drive-through or a miles-away grocery store. In the state of Ohio, the inability to conveniently access healthy food is a reality for many. For those who live in rural areas, there is a limited variety of food options and a lack of access to full-service grocers. Convenience foods are easier to access, which can lead to chronic diseases linked to poor diet. Heart disease, diabetes and obesity are just some of the serious, life-threatening consequences that small communities of Ohio are facing.
According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), those in need of nutritious food can be impacted by the prices of necessities like housing and transportation and further budget constraints when attempting to meet food needs. In addition to monetary restraints, time is also an inconvenience. According to Journal of Extension 24 percent of Ohio households live more than a 10 minute drive away from any grocery store of any size. A long drive to the grocery store, an hour-long shopping trip and another drive home can mean precious time away from work or family. This also means more money invested into transportation, which can impact the decision to prepare meals from scratch, go out to eat or buy meals with less preparation time that contain preservatives and more harmful ingredients than simple produce.
In 2017, as many as 450,000 lived in a food desert in Cuyahoga County, and 137,000 lived more than two miles away from a grocery store. Of those living in a food desert, 83 percent live in areas with high numbers of deaths from chronic diseases. These people are left with few options, particularly if a person’s health begins to decline. There may be an unwillingness to travel or cook, or a physical inability to do so. The responsibility of getting food may have to be shifted onto someone with limited ability, further narrowing food options.
Advocate groups, like those in Cuyahoga, have taken steps to implement more grocery stores in low-income areas and areas with limited food choices. By installing a supermarket in a rural town, job opportunities can open up and bring more life to a community. Additionally, those in the community can make a better decision of whether to eat out or cook at home.
To help a food desert near you, find out more here, and start volunteering or donating fresh or healthy foods to your local food bank. Other areas have community gardens, which is a great way to give back and begin producing fresh fruits and vegetables without going to the grocery store. Combining these two innovative ways to provide food can begin assisting with getting food to those who need it most. Beyond food access, education on these serious problems, how to help and leaning more about healthy eating choices will help conquer this problem in our communities.
LynAnne Vucovich is a journalist who studied at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. She has a passion for culture, community and cats.