Food Deserts



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.

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.


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.
  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

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 a 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

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

  • Participating neighborhoods: Avondale, South Cumminsville, Evanston, Northside, West End, Walnut Hills, Roselawn, Clifton
  • Two participating Hamilton County stores outside of Avondale
  • Improved access to healthy food
  • In-store nutrition education provided by community health coaches
  • Food refrigeration and shelving


Do Right!® Produce and School Markets: The community can purchase $5 family-sized bags of produce every other Friday with recipes. Contact us to find out how you can help!

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

Food Desert Campaign