Michigan, US: Two Michigan State University professors have developed interactive maps that offer a visual perspective of urban food deserts. By using GIS technology, they are showing, rather than simply telling, how urban residents are losing access to fresh produce and balanced nutrition.
Phil Howard, assistant professor of community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies, and Kirk Goldsberry, assistant professor of geography, conducted their research in Lansing. They found that many supermarkets have closed their stores that serve urban areas and have moved to the suburbs. They also showed that Michigan’s state capital is a model for what’s happening to food environments around the country.
“The change in food environments is recurring all over the nation,” said Howard, whose research is supported by MSU’s AgBioResearch. “The best selection of produce and the lowest prices have moved to the suburbs.”
By taking actual food inventories and pairing that data with geospatial inputs, the team was able to precisely measure geographic access to produce sections. What was revealed was a tale of two food environments. First, people with cars can overcome many geographical obstacles to obtain fresh produce while pedestrians’ ability to obtain fresh produce is becoming increasingly challenging, Goldsberry said.
The maps give residents, city officials and community organisations an outreach tool to visualise their food environment. Having a highly detailed method to examine each city’s food environment provides a graphic illustration of areas where produce is abundant and where it’s lacking, Howard said. He added, “They see a high-resolution image of their food environment that literally allows them to point out disparities and geographical challenges in their communities.”