Wednesday, May 11, 2011

USDA Unveils New Online Food Desert Locator

Last week, the USDA announced its new Food Desert Locator, an online mapping tool that pinpoints the location of food deserts around the country and provides data on population characteristics of census tracts where residents have limited access to affordable and nutritious foods.

The Food Desert Locator allows users to scan, zoom in on, and search the map, as well as create their own maps showing food desert census tracts. The complete dataset can be downloaded. Additionally, users can view and download statistics on population characteristics—such as the percentage and number of people who have low access to large grocery outlets or the number of "low-access" households without a car—in each tract.

About 10 percent of the 65,000 census tracts in the United States meet the definition of a food desert. These food deserts contain 13.5 million people who have little or no access to sources of healthy, fresh food. The majority of this population—82 percent—live in urban areas.

The USDA also offers Your Food Environmental Atlas, an online tool that allows users to create maps that provide a spatial overview of a community’s ability to access healthy food. County-, state- and regional-level data are available for 168 indicators of the food environment, broken down into indicators of food choices, health and well-being and community characteristics.

For more on food access and its effects on health, see strategies to prevent childhood obesity on PolicyForResults.

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