Food Desert

USDA defines a "food desert" as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. The HCI Food Desert indicator measures the proportion of urban neighborhoods more than a mile away from affordable, healthy foods (rural neighborhoods are measured at a 10 miles mark). Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options.Food deserts tend to exist in areas that are lower-income, inner-city, or rural, where there are few supermarkets, and access to healthy food is a challenge. Lack of access to healthy foods is a risk factor for health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. There is an interconnected relationship between food deserts and limited access to supermarkets in lower-income, minority communities, and one in five food stamps recipients lives in a neighborhood without a grocery store. Access to supermarkets is among the strongest behavioral correlates related to health and the built environment. Found under the Neighborhood Characteristics domain, the prevalence of food deserts is also connected to economic health, education, health systems and public safety, and social cohesion. Data are available at the Census tract level from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is provided in a dichotomous fashion, i.e., 0=no food desert, 1=food desert. This indicator is an “inverse” measure as the higher the number, the higher the proportion of the neighborhood considered a food desert, and the higher the negative impact on community health.

Neighborhoodsort descending Indicator Value Rank
Blackstone -% -
Charles -% -
College Hill 66.7% 9
Downtown 100.0% 15
Elmhurst 50.0% 5
Elmwood 100.0% 15
Federal Hill 100.0% 15
Fox Point 66.7% 9
Hartford 100.0% 15
Hope -% -
Lower South Providence 66.7% 9
Manton 100.0% 15
Mount Hope 25.0% 1
Mount Pleasant 75.0% 13
Olneyville 83.3% 14
Reservoir 100.0% 15
Silver Lake 60.0% 8
Smith Hill 50.0% 5
South Elmwood 100.0% 15
Upper South Providence 100.0% 15
Valley 33.3% 2
Wanskuck 33.3% 2
Washington Park 66.7% 9
Wayland 33.3% 2
West End 50.0% 5

Key Citations:
1. Flournoy, Rebecca. “Healthy Food Healthy Communities, Promising Strategies to Improve Access to Fresh, Healthy Food and Transform Communities” (2011). PolicyLink.
2. NCHH. “Housing Interventions at the Neighborhood Level and Health: A Review of the Evidence” National Center for Healthy Housing. 2010.
3. Lovasi, Gina S., et al. “Built Environments and Obesity in Disadvantaged Populations” (2009). Epidemiologic Reviews, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
4. Whitacre, Paula, et al. “The Public Health Effects of Food Deserts: Workshop Summary” (2009). National Academy of Sciences.