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Interactive Web Tool Maps Food Deserts, Provides Key Data

Posted by Ann Wright, Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs in Food and Nutrition Research and Science
Apr 30, 2021
Map in the ERS Food Desert Locator showing the location of food deserts in downtown St. Louis, with  popup window displaying detailed information for a specific tract
Map in the ERS Food Desert Locator showing the location of food deserts in downtown St. Louis, with popup window displaying detailed information for a specific tract

Cross posted from the Let's Move! blog:

Ensuring that Americans eat well and lead healthy lives is among our greatest goals at USDA.  First Lady Michelle Obama, of course, has taken an important role on this front – leading a national conversation and administration-wide effort.  As part of the Lets Move! initiative USDA is taking on the challenge of food deserts.  These nutritional wastelands exist across America in both urban and rural communities where parents and children simply do not have access to a supermarket.

Even with knowledge of good nutrition and the best of intentions, some people who live in “food desert” neighborhoods may have a difficult time accessing affordable and nutritious food because they live far from a supermarket and do not have easy access to transportation.

A new interactive tool launched by USDA allows users to locate food deserts. In the Food Desert Locator developed by USDA’s Economic Research Service, a food desert census tract is defined as a low-income tract where a substantial number or substantial share of residents does not have easy access to a supermarket or large grocery store.

The Locator identifies about 10 percent of the approximately 65,000 census tracts in the United States as food deserts. About 13.5 million people in these census tracts have low access to sources of healthful food.

For each food desert tract, Locator users can view and download population statistics–e.g., percentage and number of people in the tract with low access to large grocery outlets, percentage and number of people who are low income and also have low access, or number of low-access households without a car.

Users can also view a map of the United States that identifies and highlights food desert census tracts. They can zoom in to view census tracts in a county or city, or use the search feature to find a specific location by address or tract number to find out if it qualifies as a food desert. Users can also create maps showing the food desert census tracts in selected areas.

Who might find this new mapping tool useful? Policy makers, urban planners, and local community organizations seeking options to address the problem of food deserts can use the Locator to identify areas most in need. The downloadable data on food deserts may be particularly useful for health and nutrition researchers.

There are currently nineteen programs from the Departments of Treasury, Health and Human Services and Agriculture available to support the development of sustainable projects and strategies to increase access to healthy, affordable foods and eliminate food deserts.

Many types of organizations are eligible for assistance including businesses, local governments, non-profit organizations and more. We know that the federal government cannot tackle the problem of food deserts alone and we encourage those who are interested to form partnerships and develop sustainable projects and strategies in their communities.

In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the Food Desert Locator.

Home page of mapping tool, Food Desert Locator
Home page of mapping tool, Food Desert Locator

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May 03, 2011

I think the school is a great place to start for children's nutrition. They should be served healthier food at lunch and be able to go outside for exercise.

Oct 31, 2013

I Want to help feed people more abundantly! I can't understand why winning a $5 Billion Dollar cut in the SNAP Program is a win for the GOP. Children are our most vulnerable and our congress is hell bent on starving as many as possible. A 5% cut in SNAP this Friday will mean 25 fewer meals per month for the average recipient of this program...WHY, would these heartless Republicans do this?

Mayank Shah
Jan 04, 2019

I would recommend that schools turn into community kitchen programs over the weekends. Allow children and families to come together with access to healthy foods and recipes. We can create a great healthy environment in the schools, but now we need to figure out a way to bring that in the homes.

Cindy Villalobos
Jul 19, 2019

I am doing research about neglect of food access in Des Moines, IA.

Andrea Araujo
Dec 17, 2019

We need to grow our food on our backyards and create communities to share our growths.
Kids should learn how to cultivate vegetables, fruits and grains at school or in the communities too.
Everyone must be allowed to have healthy foods and in abundance.

Sharon Graham
Feb 06, 2020

looking for a food desert near me for a class assignment

Reginald Brown
Jul 02, 2020

Is there a food desert near me?

Ben Weaver
Jul 02, 2020

@Reginald Brown - thank you for your comment. You may view the Food Access Research Atlas to see if there is one near you at the following link:

Dominique Jordan Oliver
Apr 29, 2021

Hello ! Where can I find a list of the 19 programs ? It says the link doesnt work. Thanks !

Ben Weaver
Apr 30, 2021

@Dominique Jordan Oliver - thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, that link is not active and we have removed the link. However, here is a list of links that may interest you.