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Jaiko Celka and friend restock the table with vegetables at an event hosted by Market On the Move, in Athens, Georgia, on Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Photo/Kaitlynn Smith)

Picture this: you are a single parent of four children. You don’t have much money, you don’t have reliable transportation and you live in a disadvantaged section of town without a bus stop nearby. How do you get your food?

This question may seem unrelatable to the majority of the people reading this, but it is a real problem that many people face right here in Athens.

Food deserts, as defined by the American Nutrition Association, are areas lacking access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and other foods that make up a healthy diet. 1 in 5 people living in Athens Clarke County is food insecure. Since there are 127, 064 people in Athens Clarke County, there are 25, 413 people in do not have stable access to food, not to mention healthy food.

This is a problem because if people do not have access to healthy foods, then the majority of their grocery shopping will occur at convenience stores such as Dollar General and Family Dollar that have convenient junk food but not food that was intended to be consumed on a daily basis.

Another aspect of food deserts is income. The overall price of fruits and vegetables increased 75% from 1989 to 2005 (for more recent data, search the item you wish on this website) while the overall price of fatty foods decreased by 26% during the same period. So, a person who is trying to make ends meet, trying to get to a place that sells food so they can buy groceries and purchase those groceries on a limited budget will most likely purchase the fatty foods because they are cheaper and more filling.

This creates a health disparity between people living in food deserts and people who have access to healthy foods. The ethnic minority and low-income populations (two demographics who make up food desert populations) suffer statistically higher rates of diet-related illnesses, like type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These diseases can be prevented if they had access to healthier food options.

Food deserts have been a growing topic of conversation in recent years. In fact, a collaboration between the University of Georgia’ Office of Sustainability and the Athens Land Trust created Market on the Move. The organization acts as a “grocery store on wheels” to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to those who need them.

While the organization is a step in the right direction, I believe more needs to be done and more has not been done because it is a problem that seems to isolate itself, only affecting the people who live in the food desert areas. As the rate of preventable diet-related diseases increases, health care will continue to increase in price, affecting everyone.

Diet-related illnesses tend to have chronic effects and will also weaken your immune system. The old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is true; eating a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits and maintaining a healthy immune system that will prevent you from getting sick as much. So, as obesity and chronic illnesses continue to increase, so does health care cost.

Now the question remains, what can we do to broadly tackle the issue of food deserts? We can encourage people to plant community gardens, encourage local governments to expand bus lines to include food desert areas and we can try to stimulate the job growth by advocating for supermarket chains to open a store in food desert areas. That way, people will have access to healthy foods and it will also create new job opportunities for people living in the area.

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