ACHI report highlights food deserts across Arkansas

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 596 views 

In more than 1 in 4 census tracts in Arkansas, 50% or more of the local population had low access to healthy food sources in 2019, according to an Arkansas Center for Health Improvement analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

ACHI’s findings include:

In 26% of Arkansas census tracts with available data (136 out of 526), at least 50% of the population had low access to healthy food sources in 2019. For the purposes of its analysis, ACHI classified Arkansas residents as having low access to healthy food sources if they lived farther than one mile from the nearest large grocery store in an urban area or farther than 10 miles from the nearest large grocery store in a rural area.

As of 2019, at least 358 of the 686 census tracts in Arkansas were low-access, defined as a tract in which at least 500 people or 33% of the population lived farther than one mile from the nearest large grocery store in an urban area or farther than 10 miles from the nearest large grocery store in a rural area.

As of 2019, at least 171 of the 686 census tracts in Arkansas were both low-access and low-income, meaning that they met the definition of low-access above and had a poverty rate of 20% or higher or a median family income less than 80% of the median family income for Arkansas or the local metropolitan area (if applicable).

There were only 1.7 grocery or produce vendors per 10,000 people in Arkansas in 2019, below the national average of 2.1 per 10,000.

“With the White House having just held its second-ever Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, this is a good time to draw attention to the food desert crisis in Arkansas,” ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson said.

“There are communities across the state where individuals seeking healthy groceries have no options,” he said. “In these neighborhoods, the only local food sources may be gas stations or fast-food restaurants. People experiencing poverty are especially likely to be impacted by the lack of healthy foods in their communities, and surging food and gas costs in the past year have exacerbated the challenges these individuals face.”

Thompson serves as a member of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s recently appointed Governor’s Food Desert Working Group, which includes representatives from charitable food organizations and the community health care, state government, and commercial grocery sectors. By the end of this year, the group is expected to produce a report that will recommend policy initiatives and funding opportunities to improve food access in the state.

The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health was held Wednesday and included discussion of the Biden administration’s plan to end hunger in the U.S. by 2030, with improving food access included as a key part of the plan.

Because the most accessible food options in food deserts typically are not healthy options, food deserts have been associated with high obesity rates. This week, Trust for America’s Health released its annual “State of Obesity” report, which finds that Arkansas’ adult obesity rate is 38.7%, the sixth-worst rate in the nation.