For decades, low-income urban and rural communities have faced limited opportunities to purchase healthy food. In the 1960s and 1970s, white, middle-class families left urban centers for homes in the suburbs, and supermarkets fled with them—taking jobs and tax revenues along with their offerings of healthy, affordable food. Low-income urban residents with limited transportation options did much of their shopping at small local stores that had limited selection and high prices. Rural communities, like underserved urban areas, confronted limited and highpriced food options, and did not benefit from the jobs and revenues a grocery store could bring. Advocates sought to increase access to healthy food, but for decades the problem seemed intractable. The poor paid more for their food and had fewer healthy, affordable options. There were few examples of successful strategies to improve access to healthy foods.
Disparities in access continue today, contributing to obesity and related health problems. In recent decades, obesity rates have risen dramatically. The good news, however, is that there are now many strategies being implemented across the country to address this issue. Many of these strategies highlight unique opportunities for health advocates, community residents, and policy-makers to partner with the private sector.
One crucial factor contributing to the poor diets of many low-income families is the lack of access to affordable, high-quality, and nutritious food sources. Numerous studies have demonstrated that low-income communities of color have fewer supermarkets compared to their wealthier, white counterparts, which creates a "grocery gap." As a result, families in these communities face difficult choices in purchasing food due to income and time constraints caused by poverty. Moreover, limited access to transportation makes it challenging for them to visit distant supermarkets, leaving them with no choice but to rely on quick and inexpensive options available in their vicinity, such as convenience stores and fast food restaurants, which typically offer high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sugar foods.