Is Arizona harmful to your eating habits?

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PHOENIX - Could where you live in Arizona be harmful to your health? Where you call home may determine your eating habits.

Value Marketplace is a welcome addition to the neighborhood near 31st Avenue and Thomas. This area is known as a food desert.
 
“The closet grocery store is more than a half mile away at 43rd Avenue and McDowell,” Jerry Brown, public relations manager at St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, said. “So there are a lot of people that live in this area and may not have access to transportation.”

Value Marketplace is a new program offered by St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance. While the selection isn't big, meat, fruits and vegetables are available. This is especially important for people living in this part of town.

“It’s also a place where people live in our neighborhood can actually treat it as the local grocery store,” Brown said.

According to a United States Department of Agriculture Study (USDA), 5 percent of Americans live in a food desert.

In Arizona, it's reportedly a reality for nearly 14 percent of the population. These are people who typically live in a low-income area where a number of them don't have a grocery store within a mile from their home.

“I think what's most interesting is that even in areas where there are large concentrations of population there are still food deserts within urban areas,” Brown said.

The USDA’s new food desert locator shows how many people live in food deserts just within Maricopa County.

“Food deserts can be anywhere. It's simply difficult for people to gain access to a food supply that has a collection of what we call nutrient dense foods,” Dr. John Sutherland said.

The lack of grocery stores and not having transportation forces people living in these areas to make unhealthy choices. This is because the only place they can buy food is at the neighborhood convenience store.
 
“Of course, if you’re a convenience store it's difficult to have these nutrient rich foods readily available,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland is a cardiologist with the Arizona Heart Institute. He hopes by reducing the number of food deserts, we can start focusing on health maintenance rather than contributing to the already skyrocketing rates of obesity.

“Will spend lots of time telling you about what's going to happen when we take you to the operating room,” Sutherland said. “I'm afraid what we really need to do is spend at least as much time on empowering people for prevention.”

First Lady Michelle Obama has waged a campaign against obesity and she wants to reduce the number of food deserts. She recently teamed up with national retailers like Walgreens and Walmart, who have agreed to bring nutritious and fresh food into those areas.

For more information call Value Marketplace—St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance at 602-415-5474 or
emai: valuemarketplace@firstfoodbank.org.

Food Desert Locator

Visit www.ers.usda.gov/data/fooddesert/.