Our View: The way out of Mississippi's food desert

April 12, 2011 11:22:00 AM



What''s a food desert? Many of us in Mississippi, one of the nation''s most fertile states, have limited access to healthy foods. 


According to one measure, a food desert could be described as an area with no grocery store within a 10-mile radius. People who live in these areas have better access to less healthy -- and more expensive -- food from convenience stores or fast-food joints. 


Health experts often point to the Mississippi Delta as the driest of our food deserts. Expand the definition, and more of us are living in these deserts. 


In Lowndes and Clay counties, more than 5 percent of the population lives without access to a car and more than a mile away from a grocery store, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Oktibbeha County, it''s more than 6 percent. 


In Mississippi, such numbers, or worse, are the norm. (In much of the rest of the U.S., the numbers fall well below 5 percent.) 


In fact, Mississippi''s adults, compared to adults in every other state, eat the fewest fruits and vegetables, according to studies. 


Our food deserts are dry in produce and rich in fatty foods -- and are a major reason why Mississippi ranks first in the nation in childhood obesity, adult-onset diabetes, and other dietary problems. 


The Legislature has asked Gov. Haley Barbour to create a panel of experts that will study Mississippi''s food deserts, and make recommendations on how to combat them. Some ideas bandied about include giving incentives to small retailers to provide fresh produce, or launch farmer''s markets in more areas. 


We urge the governor to sign the bill that will create this commission, which would be made up of health officers and experts, and lawmakers. Any attention that can be drawn to this problem is welcome. 


Of course, yet another commission won''t solve this problem. Education, and a shift in our dietary habits, are the keys to ending Mississippi''s obesity epidemic. So, too, is access to affordable, healthier foods.