Proof Thousands Stuck in Food Deserts

By Tonia Bendickson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) – Proof tonight that thousands of people in the city of Charlotte are stuck in a food desert.  And it's threatening their lives.  A new UNC-Charlotte study finds there are 60 such food deserts in Charlotte.  These are the places where it's hard to find so much as an apple or head of lettuce to eat.

It is a national health issue addressed this week by first lady, Michelle Obama, "6.5 million children live in what we call food deserts," she said, "areas without a single supermarket."

It is a health disparity Ebony Mackey lives each day.  She lives on Nobles avenue in West Charlotte, confirmed tonight as one of the city's food deserts.

"A food desert is an area in the U.S. with limited access to nutritious food," says Dr. Elizabeth Racine, is Assistant Professor of Public Health at UNC Charlotte.

Over the past several months she's been gathering data, "We expected to find food deserts, we didn't expect to find as many as we did."  Her team found 60 food deserts - neighborhoods in Charlotte without access to a full-service grocery store.  That's close to 73-thousand people without access to affordable, healthy food.

In May, WBTV took you inside some of the only stores available in these neighborhoods.  We saw nutrition nightmares.  Not a single fresh fruit or vegetable to be found.  The CDC believes lack of access to healthy food is leading to our nation's epidemic rise in childhood obesity.

The UNC-Charlotte, Charlotte Food Policy Council study also found a direct link between access to healthy food in these neighborhoods and premature death from heart disease.

"Is there a danger in ignoring this information?  Yeah, there will just be more deaths," said Racine.  It's a sentiment echoed by Mrs. Obama, who worries that today's young people will be, "The first generation in history to live shorter lives than their parents."

Mrs. Obama's "let's move" campaign calls for a $400-million a year government fund to use as seed money to attract grocery stores to food deserts.  Here in Charlotte - advocates like the Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council and Mecklenburg Health Department are working on ways to get fruits and veggies to those neighborhoods.

We'll continue to follow the story.

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