Understanding Food Deserts

GIS map of New Castle Co. food desertsAccording to the USDA, a “food desert” is a community, particularly lower-income neighborhoods, where residents have low (or limited) access to affordable, quality, and nutritious food.  Nutritious foods are defined as those that follow the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are designed to encourage the consumption of nutritious foods by balancing calorie intake and by choosing more natural, non-processed foods. 

In 2009, it was reported that 23.5 million Americans lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home.  An additional 3.4 million households live less than a mile away from a supermarket but lack the necessary access due to lack of transportation. Low-income and predominately minority communities are affected the most.  One nationwide study found that 1) zip codes comprising low-income households have 25 percent fewer supermarkets than do zip codes comprising middle-income households and 2) African-American populations had half as much access to chain supermarkets as those with Caucasian popluations, controlling for other factors. 

Delaware’s communities are similarly affected. For example, of the 215 census tracts in Delaware, 142 census tracts (or 61% of the population) lack a grocery store. An additional 56 census tracts (or approximately 27% of the population) have only one grocery store in the region. In New Castle County alone, 89 census tracts do not have a grocery store within the area, and in Sussex County an additional 34 census tracts do not have a grocery store.

More information on the existence of food deserts in the United States and in Delaware: