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Roadblocks to Good Nutrition in Food Deserts

As the stock market is at an all-time high and national unemployment is reportedly low, the idea that hunger is still prevalent across the U.S. seems almost counterintuitive. Yet hunger is a pervasive social issue, and approximately 14.3 million American households experienced food insecurity in 2018, more than 11% of the total population.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that food insecurity is more common among households with children, by a significant margin. “Overall, households with children had a substantially higher rate of food insecurity (13.9%) than those without children (9.9%),” according to the USDA. Further, a large chunk of those experiencing food insecurity reside in what are known as food deserts — that is, areas with limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Food deserts are found across the U.S., in rural areas as well as inner-city neighborhoods.

Poor nutrition goes way beyond food deserts, however; nutrition can be hindered by a number of factors, from reduced access to healthful foods to social isolation and depression, food intolerance, and physical problems that make it difficult to eat. In fact, since the issue of poor nutrition is so nuanced, some researchers believe that we should do away with the term “food desert” altogether.

That’s because poor nutrition isn’t the result of a single issue, but is instead a complex network of multiple systematic issues that can adversely affect Americans of all ages and income brackets. No matter how you feel about the concept of food deserts, however, if you’re concerned about optimal health and nutrition, at both an individual and community level, there are a number of viable options at your disposal. You can start by working with and advocating for local healthcare professionals, avoiding fad diets, and cultivating strong and healthy food-related routines on a daily basis.

Eliminating Roadblocks to Healthy Eating

Hunger and food deserts aren’t only problematic for America’s youth: Our Boomers may also have sub-optimal nutrition, no matter whether they live on their own or in an assisted living facility. According to the National Institute on Aging, it can be difficult for older individuals to make smart food choices.

Yet consuming a balanced diet full of protein, antioxidants, and fatty acids is one of the keys to healthy aging, so it’s essential for older adults to be more mindful of their dietary habits. Interestingly, loneliness may also be at the core of the issue when it comes to poor diet among aging Americans. Throughout history, cooking and eating have long been considered social activities, but more of us are regularly dining alone than ever before.

The modern trend of eating alone stems from a variety of factors. For starters, the physical and mental fatigue caused by the stresses of modern life leaves many Americans disinterested in tackling such tasks as preparing and cooking a meal. Getting enough sleep may help combat that stress, and you can also reduce the negative effects of eating alone by setting a daily routine that involves at least one meal per day in the company of friends, family, or co-workers.

Cultivating food-related routines may result in healthier food choices, leading to improved health on a national scale.

The Healthcare-Nutrition Connection

Good nutrition and healthcare effectively go hand-in-hand. In fact, healthful nutritional plans may help prevent chronic diseases and health conditions such as Type II diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Family nurse practitioners and other healthcare professionals often advocate for healthier eating, along with regular exercise, when treating patients with obesity. The condition is one of America’s most common health conditions, affecting more than 20% of the population.

There’s also a strong connection between poor nutrition and mental health issues, especially in food deserts. The inability to easily access affordable, healthy foods is stressful in and of itself, and poor nutrition compounds the problem. No matter where you live, your healthcare provider may be able to provide useful information regarding food banks or inexpensive markets in your area as well as helpful tips and tricks to keep overall food costs down. By working together, individuals and healthcare professionals may indeed help us to leave the term “food desert” in the past.

The Dieting Conundrum

Despite outward appearances, dieting isn’t necessarily nutritious. In fact, diets are often lacking in essential nutrients and vitamins, and could, in fact, compound health issues rather than improve them. So-called “fad diets” are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to lackluster nutritional value.

That’s because removing key nutrients from your overall diet is the cornerstone of most fad diet schemes. For instance, carbohydrates are virtually eliminated within the Atkins and keto diet schemes, yet carbs are our body’s primary energy source. Other types of fad diets ask you to avoid fats, meats, and/or refined sugars, but proper nutrition requires a balance rather than a one-sided food elimination endeavor.

What’s more, a well-rounded diet is only a small factor in the larger picture of a healthy lifestyle. As previously mentioned, adopting healthy food routines and scheduling regular family mealtimes can make a big difference when it comes to good health throughout your community. It’s also important that families stay active and utilize good nutrition as a means to reduce stress and facilitate holistic health.

Photo by Edvin Johansson on Unsplash

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