The Bronx Example: Urban Food Deserts

Urban Food DesertsUrban Food Deserts

For the last few years, public health experts have used the term “Food Deserts” to describe communities where residents lack access to healthy food and suffer the twin problems of hunger and obesity.

Many communities across the nation fit this criteria. This article focuses on the Bronx, one of the five boroughs of New York City but this piece could be about central Los Angeles, the south side of Chicago or any number of low income communities in urban areas across America.

The Bronx has been identified as a classic example of such a Food Desert and my students have written several term papers and theses demonstrating the difficulty of finding fresh fruits and vegetables in Bronx food stores, and affording them even when they are available. One result is that the Bronx has the highest obesity rate of any borough in New York City and one of the highest obesity rates of any county in the United States

But food is not the only health issue that the metaphor of a “Desert” can be applied to Bronx residents, especially young people, have so much difficulty finding opportunities for sports and recreation in the neighborhoods and their schools that the Borough can be described as an Exercise Desert as well. The following are my criteria for describing a community as an Exercise Desert. I suspect many working class communities around the nation would qualify.

  • Neighborhood schools do not offer regular gym classes during school days. Time once used for recess and gym are now devoted to “test prep.”
  • School gymnasiums, fields and schoolyards, are not used on a daily basis for free, or affordable sports and exercise programs ( including dance) after school, either for their own students, or community members.
  • There are few health clubs or community centers that offer regular sports and fitness programs that neighborhood residents, whether youth or adults, can afford.
  • Public parks are poorly maintained and have few, if any youth sports leagues that use them on a regular basis.

If you live in a community where these conditions prevail, chances are that regular exercise will not be a part of your life and that the soccer leagues, baseball leagues, and dance classes that are a fixture of young people’s lives in middle class and wealthy neighborhoods will reach only a tiny portion of your neighborhood youth.

mark naisonThe result – an epidemic of obesity, and obesity related health issues, ranging from diabetes to circulatory problems.

This is yet another indication of how far race and class inequality have deformed our national life.

Mark Naison
With a Brooklyn Accent

Published: Sunday, 23 September 2012

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