Examining Food Insecurity Using the American Housing Survey

You may have heard the term “food desert” tossed around in conversation lately. But what does it mean? In 2010, an estimated 29.7 million Americans lived in low-income areas and were more than one mile away from a grocery store (Ver Ploeg et al., 2012). To see if the area you live in is considered a food desert, visit the Food Access Research Atlas at USDA.gov.

Lawmakers, physicians, non-profits, farmers and a host of other professionals have started to recognize the importance of this problem. Even the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, has made it her mission through her Let’s Move! campaign to combat hunger and encourage the consumption of healthier food in order to have a more active lifestyle. Access to food has been studied for its potential health risks, such as obesity and respiratory problems.[1] Attention has also been paid to the characteristics of those who are in food deserts and indicate that African American and low-income households are less likely to have grocery stores nearby.[2]

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) American Housing Survey (AHS), provides a national data set that can be used to explore the issue of access to grocery stores. The AHS is a national survey currently conducted in odd-numbered years. In 2003, the AHS began asking people whether or not they had a grocery or drug store within one mile of their home. The same question was asked in 2005.

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