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Data Update: Food Deserts

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Released as a set in early 2017, the Food Access Research Atlas (FARA) data provide communities across the nation with an updated look at food access and, more importantly, a view of how food deserts have changed since 2010. The FARA is a compliment to the USDA’s Food Environment Atlas, which houses county-level food related data. Layers in this recent release include:

The food desert layer, available at the census-tract level, presents a spatial overview of critical food access indicators and uses measures such as population and supermarket accessibility to determine areas of greatest need. Estimates in the latest version of the Food Access Research Atlas draw from various sources, including the 2015 STARS list of supermarkets, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Retailer Directory, the 2010 Decennial Census, and the 2010-14 American Community Survey.

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) Working Group considers a food desert as a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. Furthermore, to qualify as a food desert tract, at least 33 percent of the tract’s population or a minimum of 500 people in the tract must have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.

A low-income census tract is defined as any census tract where the poverty rate for that tract is at least 20 percent, or for tracts not located within a metropolitan area, the median family income for the tract does not exceed 80 percent of statewide median family income. Some census tracts that contain supermarkets or large grocery stores may meet the criteria of a food desert if a substantial number or share of people within that census tract are more than 1 mile (urban areas) or 10 miles (rural areas) from the nearest supermarket. Furthermore, some residents of food desert census tracts may live within 1 or 10 miles of a supermarket; these residents are not counted as low access and thus not counted in the total.

For more information about USDA data, including the methodology and data definitions please visit the Food Access Research Atlas web page.

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