Food deserts are becoming a major issue for cities with high impoverished populations. Memphis is home to many areas that are considered food deserts, such as Binghampton, South Memphis and North Memphis, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.
Food deserts raise obesity rates around these areas because people there are not able to purchase healthful foods, so their only choice is to buy cheaper food, which is often an unhealthy choice.
These food desert areas in Memphis rank the city second in “overall fattest rank” and third in “obesity and overweight rank” in the country in a research study done by WalletHub, a personal finance website.
Elena Delavega, a social work professor at the University of Memphis, said food deserts are places where people cannot easily obtain healthful food.
Delavega said she thinks larger corporations prefer money coming in rather than helping a poverty-stricken community.
“For large corporations, they go into the wealthier neighborhoods where they can make a lot of money,” Delavega said. “They are more interested in having a lot of big profits than serving a community.”
Food deserts have been caused by larger food market corporations, such as Kroger closing stores in low-income neighborhoods, like the former South Third Street and Lamar Avenue Kroger stores in Memphis. Delavega relates childhood obesity with students not performing well in school. This can be a health-related issue and a mental issue.
“High fats and sugars are things that the brain doesn’t need to develop,” Delavega said. “Perhaps the students are focusing on the food rather than focusing on their studies.”
Food deserts do not mean food availability is the only issue for these areas of the city. Transportation is also an issue because some families cannot travel to neighborhoods with more grocery stores available.
“They don’t have a car, so they are trapped in an area with no food,” Delavega said.
Poverty leads to crime, and cities do not invest enough money in these neighborhoods which affect a child’s self-esteem, Delevega said.
“They live in a horrible place, and it makes children believe that nobody cares that they live in a horrible place,” Delavega said.
Some Shelby County School students in Memphis suffer from being overweight or obese, with 16 percent of students overweight and 22.6 percent obese. This information is out of the 41,432 SCS students with complete height, weight and neighborhood data, according to research by Yong Yang, a professor at the school of public health at the U of M.
Some local organizations have created farmers markets to provide better food for impoverished areas. Urban Farms Memphis in Binghampton provides rich soil for home gardening and many seasonal fruits and vegetables on a three-acre site.