The City Market in the Charlottesville, VA community is a vibrant and lively source of fresh food . Research data that I helped to collect this past summer shows that while the Market provides a variety of fruits, vegetables, and prepared goods, these products are not being utilized by the community as a whole. It was found that the majority of market customers are overwhelmingly white and earn an annual income of $100,000 or more. The findings made me realize that minority community members not only face barriers to accessing the City Market, but fresh and nutritious foods in general.
Unfortunately, the issue of access to healthy foods for minority and low-income populations is not limited to the Charlottesville area. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention created a map (that visually represents the distribution of diabetes across the U.S. This map has revealed a section in the Southeast that has been deemed “the diabetes belt” and includes areas with especially high occurrences of diabetes. While regional implications contribute to the location of the belt, further research conducted by Patchwork Nation has revealed that race, socio-economic, and cultural issues have more prominent correlations to the presence of high levels of diabetes. The two Patchwork Nation communities most heavily represented in the diabetes belt are Minority Central (largely African American populations) and Evangelical Epicenters (older, socially conservative populations).
The high prevalence of diabetes in Minority Central and Evangelical Epicenters can be connected to the low presence of affordable and nutritious food in these communities. 5.9% of Minority Central and 4.2% of Evangelical Epicenter households are considered to be located in food deserts. Lack of access to healthy options and limited money for food forces these populations to rely on fast food restaurants and pre-packaged processed items for sustenance. Poor food choices lead to the health issues discussed above as well as obesity. Additionally, the income of these populations has been decreasing since the 1980’s, making them unable to address their poor health and afford nutritious foods.
It is evident that limited access to affordable nutritious food creates a vicious cycle for low-income minority communities. Their socio-economic status makes them more susceptible to living in food deserts, which puts them at a higher risk for health issues and limits the funds they can use to address these issues. Even in a city like Charlottesville where there is a plethora of food options, these populations struggle to follow a healthy lifestyle. Strengthening nutritious eating in our nation has been made a priority of the first lady. However, a larger focus on economic development and health care options for the most vulnerable populations will be needed to see positive change.
A map of “The Diabetes Belt” as defined by the CDC.
Guest Contributor: Erica Stratton