Food deserts are areas that lack easy access to nutritious food. Let us find out how do food deserts impact older adults living in these areas.
With the ease with which food can now be grown, we are living in an era of unparalleled food security. Many older folks are turning to a diet heavy in sugar, salt, and processed foods to maintain their health during these prosperous times.
There has been an increase in “food deserts” due to this trend. It is tough to obtain nutritious meals in these locations. In light of this fact, it should be no surprise that seniors are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of poor nutrition in food deserts.
Residents in a food desert cannot get a wide variety of essential nutrients, including fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, peas, beans, meat, and fish. As a result, chronic diseases are more common, and there are wide disparities in health care.
This article examines the causes, consequences, and solutions to food deserts. Find out more about food deserts and how they may affect the health of older adults and their families by reading on!
If a Place Is Labeled as a “Food Desert,” What Does It Mean?
People living in food deserts are deprived of an abundance of nutritious options. You may not be able to afford a healthy diet because of a tight budget or a scarcity of healthy food options in your area.
The USDA defines food deserts as locations where the poverty rate is at least 20%. The average family income is less than 80% of the state average in urban areas or 80% of the state average in non-urban areas or any combination of these requirements.
To be labeled a food desert, several additional requirements must be met. An extensive food shop must be within a one-mile radius of at least 500 people or a third of the city’s population. To be considered rural, five hundred individuals or one-third of the people must live more than 10 miles away from a significant food store.
The USDA, between 2000 and 2006, recognized about 6,500 food deserts. According to recent estimates, over a quarter of the population of the United States lives more than a mile away from a major grocery store. Almost a quarter of these people are living below the poverty line.
Older Adults Are Particularly Vulnerable to Malnutrition
Many older adults’ diets lack fruits and vegetables and nutritious grains. Even if you reside in a location with easy availability of healthy food, these findings remain true.
The consequences of malnutrition may be devastating if you don’t have access to vital resources. This problem affects the elderly the most severely of any demographic. To some extent, low nutrition has a disproportionately negative impact on the elderly population because of their heightened sensitivity.
Malnutrition is a risk factor for poor health outcomes in the elderly, and as a result, health care expenses rise. If a senior is malnourished, it increases their risk of hospitalization, rehospitalization.
A Variety of Factors May Contribute to the Emergence of Food Deserts
This issue is often linked to racism in public policy and economics. Such factors hinder access not just in nutrition but in the social, economic, and political arenas.
- Race-based segregation, poverty, and a lack of public transit are all factors contributing to health disparities in some of the country’s most underserved areas.
- Low-income minority ethnic communities are less likely to have access to supermarkets than wealthy, primarily white neighborhoods, a USDA study found in 2012.
- When food shops are available in low-income areas, those who come from wealthier families in those areas choose to dwell near these establishments. Disputes may emerge over the cost of meals, rather than their closeness, in certain situations.
- A lack of mobility in rural places is the most significant predictor of food insecurity. So, people without a car or a bicycle and those unable to use public transit are at greater risk of being hungry.
There is still a lot of debate among experts about the best way to determine the features of individuals living in food deserts. Food deserts may be identified by doing such research, allowing politicians to implement measures to boost the availability of healthy foods.
Living in a food desert has several adverse effects on one’s health, including:
Obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes are common in these areas. The reason is that the diet naturally consists of high sodium, high carbohydrate diets which are linked with the incidence of all three of these diseases.
When access to health care is limited or excessively costly, this is a common occurrence in food deserts. Consequently, the health of those who live there is compromised.
Maintaining the Health
Maintaining a healthy diet is easier if you follow these suggestions:
- Consuming a wide range of meals from various dietary categories.
- Calorie intake
- Saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and salt should be limited in your diet.
Following the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines, the following items are recommended for inclusion in a person’s daily diet.
- Variety of food from all across the world
- Organically grown grain
- Dairy products that are low in fat or fat-free
- several high-protein meals, such as:
- Low-fat cuts of poultry and pork
- Almonds, cashews, and seeds
- Soybean-based products
- Health-promoting essential oils
There may be a scarcity of supermarkets and other food enterprises that provide healthy, reasonably priced food in areas designated as “food deserts.” Even while healthier options may be found at convenience shops and small grocery stores, they may not be accessible to individuals on a tight budget.
Many food deserts have to rely on fast-food restaurants and grocery stores to supplement their diets because of the limited choices and lower prices offered by these outlets. Obesity may be linked to a lack of healthful meals and an overabundance of fast food. Such disorders like hypertension and cardiovascular disease may be affected by these factors.
How to eat well on a tight budget
You can still eat healthy meals even if you are on a low budget and don’t have access to fresh, high-quality vegetables, such as:
- Opt for shelf-stable or frozen foods instead of canned ones. When compared to fresh produce, canned or frozen meats, fruits, and vegetables are not only more nutrient-dense but also more cost-effective. When at all feasible, choose canned foods reduced in salt.
- Consider obtaining your protein from a plant-based source instead of meat. Many people’s food budgets are heavily weighted toward meat.
- When possible, buy locally grown produce. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables are more difficult to find and more costly than their in-season counterparts.
- Keep any leftovers in the freezer. Repurposing leftovers is another option. Making veggie rice from leftover plain rice from Sunday supper is a good example.
Resolving the Problem at the Root
Individuals who live in food deserts are often susceptible to poor nutrition. Several programs have been created by the federal and state governments and private sectors to supply nutritious food in areas ordinarily challenging to get.
But if you have an older relative living in a place where nourishing meals are limited, you may be able to help them. As a goodwill gesture, you may volunteer to do their food shopping for them, or you could deliver a variety of healthy snacks. Having the time to assist them in preparing nutritious meals is even better.
If you cannot care for an older relative on your own, you might consider hiring a home care agency. We help our senior clients with food shopping and meal preparation daily to ensure that they get the nutrition they need to stay healthy. A third alternative is to make a financial contribution to organizations working to alleviate poverty and food insecurity in your community.