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The 5 Best And Worst Food Desert Cities

The site Walk Score ranks cities based on whether people live within close walking distance of a grocery store. Take a look at how far people have to travel to buy real food.

In the U.S., many of the poorest citizens have the worst access to nutritious foods. They live in “food deserts”–places that lack convenient markets or stores that sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. As a result, poor neighborhoods often have higher rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases, like diabetes.

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But some cities have markedly more food desert neighborhoods than others, where grocery stores can be found seemingly on every other block. In a new ranking, the site Walk Score evaluated the cities with the best and worst access to healthy food for residents, based on the percentage of people who live within a five-minute walk of grocery stores.

This is an extremely exacting ranking of food deserts, of course–I have never lived five minutes from a grocery store, but have often been within a 10 or 15 minute walk, which is close enough for most people. Plus, the ranking doesn’t take into account other sources of healthy food, like farmers markets and well-stocked convenience stores. It also doesn’t look at price–even if someone lives within a five-minute walk from Whole Foods, they may look elsewhere for lower-cost items.

With those caveats in mind, here are the top five cities with over 500,000 residents that have the best food access:


And the five cities with the worst food access:


There’s a striking difference between the top and bottom, as you can see:


Make no mistake: Grocery chains realize that these food desert cities offer opportunity. According to the Indianapolis Star, for example, Indianapolis has at least 18 new grocery stores under construction. In driving-reliant cities, even that kind of expansion may not be enough to meet Walk Score’s food desert criteria of being within a five-minute walk of a grocery store. A city of walkable grocery stores is only possible with density–and that’s why, for the foreseeable future, New York City will always beat cities like Indianapolis. Too bad you’ll have to carry your groceries back home.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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