Food Deserts Linked With Asthma Risk

November 16, 2016

Whether they want to believe it or not, kids need to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. But what some kids consider an annoyance is for other kids a near impossibility, as millions of children nationwide live in food deserts — places where fresh food just can’t be found. And, according to a new study, living in a food desert can significantly increase a child’s risk of having asthma.

The precise definition of what a “food desert” is can vary, but the researchers in this case viewed a food desert as anywhere that is at least one mile from the nearest supermarket. It’s not that food deserts are completely bereft of food, but convenience stores and corner shops typically have lots of low-nutrition, produced items and few of the fresh fruits and vegetables needed for a balanced diet.

“It is worth it to make it to a grocery store or farmer’s markets to find fresh fruits and vegetables,” allergy researcher Dr. DeVon Preston told Vocativ in an email, acknowledging that simply making the extra effort to go to a supermarket isn’t the only challenge. “It is difficult since fresh foods often do cost more and the time to cook/prepare those foods may not be conducive due to employment and socioeconomic status.”

Preston and fellow researchers at the University of Virginia Health System looked at health data for 2,043 kids between January 2014 and March 2015 in the Hampton Roads region in southeastern Virginia.

They found that about 10 percent of the kids lived further than a mile away from a supermarket, and that these kids had a higher rate of asthma than their peers. The difference might not appear huge at first — 17 percent of kids living within a mile of a supermarket had asthma, compared with 21 percent living further away — but the difference became more stark when the researchers factored out other health conditions that are linked with asthma.

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