August 14, 2013

It’s best to start with the question “what is a food desert?”
A food desert is a neighborhood or area where its residents have little or no access to healthy, fresh foods. This lack of accessibility is a major barrier to those in the community who are trying to live healthier lifestyles.

A National Issue

There are 23.5 million Americans living in designated food deserts (USDA, 2009). An alarming 25 percent of Cincinnati’s population lives in a food desert. This just doesn’t mean that people aren’t eating as healthily as they could. Those living in affected areas experience higher rates of obesity and diet-related illnesses.

In fact if current trends continue, 1 in 3 U.S. adults will have diabetes by 2050.

(click image to view larger version)



The Cost of Obesity Is High

  • Obesity cost Americans $147 billion dollars in 2008.
  • Annual medical expenses for those struggling with obesity are 42 percent higher than for a person of healthy weight.

Obesity in Cincinnati

  • Almost 2 out of every 3 adults in Greater Cincinnati are overweight or obese.
  • 1 in 3 Cincinnati adults are obese according to the Greater Cincinnati Community Health Status Survey.

CDC’s Recommended Strategies to Prevent Obesity

  1. Increase and improve availability of healthier food/beverage choices in public service venues at more affordable price points
  2. Improve geographic availability of supermarkets in underserved areas
  3. Provide incentives to food retailers to locate in and/or offer healthier food/beverage choices to residents living in underserved areas
  4. Improve ease of purchasing foods fresh from the farms
  5. Provide incentives for the production, distribution, and procurement of foods from local farms

Food Access & the Grocery Gap

More than 23.5 million Americans do not have access to a grocery store within one mile of their homes and must spend significantly more time traveling to a grocery store.

Cincinnati falls well below average when it comes to the availability of supermarkets. To meet the national average of 24-34 grocery stores within one mile of all of its residents, the region would need 10 more supermarkets at minimum.

The Grocery Gap

  • Adults living in neighborhoods with supermarkets have the lowest rates of obesity and overweight.
  • Adults living in neighborhoods with no supermarkets have the highest rates of obesity.


What is the Fresh Food Financing Initiative?

One solution growing in popularity is the Fresh Food Financing Initiative. It proposes public-private partnerships that would fund a $120 million financing program. This program will provide grants and loans to supermarkets and grocery stores. (“Top 15 Innovations in American Government”– Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, 2009)

Benefits of a Financing Program



I’m Interested in Being Financed 

Visit our Fresh Food Fund Application Page for program requirements and to fill out an application.

Efforts Underway!

The good news is that progress is being made, and The Health Gap is a driving force behind the change with its Do Right!® Corner Store initiative.

  • Four participating stores in Avondale
  • Two participating Hamilton County stores outside of Avondale
  • Improved access to healthy food
  • Improved infrastructure
  • Food distribution sites

Do Right!® Produce Markets

  • School Markets: $5 family-sized bags of produce sold on Tuesdays/Fridays
  • Church Markets: produce after Sunday services with bi-weekly and monthly distribution with 20 church sites
  • Nutrition Education: residents receive nutrition training. Upon completion, they receive New Masters Nutrition Volunteer Certification. Each participant graduates after presenting at least two trainings with a church or community following the “Train the Trainer Model Community Garden” and “Local Grower Initiatives.”

E-mail to find out how you can help!

“Inside Cincinnati” features Renee Mahaffey Harris, Executive Director of the Health Gap, and Cincinnati City Council member, Wendell Young. They discuss health disparities and food deserts in our communities. Courtesy of CitiCable.

Next Steps…

Organizations need to focus on land acquisition and pilot local grower production in order to develop a wholesale distribution system to support corner store and distribution sites.

Interview“When I found out that my sister and my mom had diabetes that made me want to eat healthier. I believe that every store should be like The Fresh Grocer because when I walk in the front all you see are the healthy things. A supermarket like that around where I live would help a lot of people to eat healthier.”


In February 2012, the expanded City Food Access Task Force was asked to study ways to establish financing mechanisms in order to incentivize new retail foor establishments that will offer healthy and nutritious foods to residents of Cincinnati’s food deserts. In December 2012, the City of Cincinnati became one of the first municipalities in the country to establish a Fresh Food Fund. Review the report to the city.


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