Ask A Researcher

March 2014

Food Deserts and how they impact North Dakota

Karen K. Ehrens, RD, LRD, Coordinator for Healthy North Dakota and the Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota Coalition, and Consultant to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture Local Foods Project defines the concept of a food desert, and shares her views on how North Dakota is uniquely impacted by the lack of access to healthy food.

 

Q: What is a food desert?

Food deserts are places where people live without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Access to healthy food is key to a healthy life, including the life of our communities.

People are surprised to learn that here in North Dakota, where we grow food to feed the world, a number of our counties are classified as food deserts. Agriculture is North Dakota’s leading industry, and we lead the nation in the production of several crops including flax, canola, wheat, dry beans and others. However, it is the raw ingredients that we grow, and most of these ingredients leave the state to be processed before they come back ready to cook or eat.

The specific definition of a food desert agreed upon by several federal departments is “a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.”

Q: What challenges do those living in a food desert face?

Without this ready access to healthy food, people are more likely to have poor diets, and poor diets are linked to health problems - diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and other chronic diseases. Nearly half of us in North Dakota have one or more of these chronic illnesses. Nearly two-thirds of us in the state are at unhealthy weight levels (classified as overweight or obese).When people have better access to a supermarket or large grocery store, they are more likely to eat healthier foods and to have a reduced risk of obesity.

What if you have diabetes, but the only place to purchase food in your town is a convenience shop or gas station with no fresh fruits or vegetables and no fresh meats? The environment can make it very challenging to select the foods that help prevent or manage disease rather finding only foods that make problems worse.

Many of us take for granted owning a car or truck and being able to drive it, and many of us living in rural areas drive to nearby larger towns for work or to shop. But think for a moment of our seniors living in rural areas of the state who may not like to drive in the winter, or may not even be able to drive due to a disabling condition. Without a local grocery store, getting access to healthy food may be severely hampered.

Q: Do these challenges more greatly affect those of low income?

Nationally, low-income areas have more convenience stores and far fewer supermarkets, limiting healthy options for our children and families. In fact, the term “food swamp” is starting to be used for places where there is high access to many foods with low nutrition value. So on one hand, there may be not enough health-building foods and more than enough of foods we should be choosing less often.

Not everyone in the state owns a car or is able to drive. Those on fixed incomes and/or with lower incomes may not be able to afford a car or have the money for fuel to fill a gas tank to drive to a grocery store or other location that sells food. Outside our larger North Dakota cities, there is very little public transportation for people to use to get to work or to shop.

The nutrition and education program WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) served three-quarters of the children born in North Dakota in 2012. The WIC program provides mothers and children in the program with nutritious foods to support their health and growth. Not being nearby a grocery or full-service store can make it difficult for mothers and children to gain access to healthier foods.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, helps ensure that people have access to enough healthy food. A majority of people receiving SNAP benefits in North Dakota are those who are elderly, disabled or working at low wage jobs. For these most vulnerable populations, nearby access to food is crucial, for these folks may be some of those who have the least access to affordable transportation.

Q: Do food deserts exist in rural and urban communities?

While many people think of food deserts in large cities like New York City or Detroit, food deserts also exist in rural areas, including areas within North Dakota. The USDA Food Research Access Map highlights 17 North Dakota counties with potential food deserts, and all are in rural areas of the state.

Grocery stores are also more than just places to get food; often they are anchors in rural communities. Without a grocery store, people in small towns miss out not only on access to food, but also local taxes, charitable giving, and jobs.

In the greater Fargo-Moorhead area, the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments developed a list of “emerging” food deserts. Members of the Cass-Clay Healthy People Initiative are working to identify and target these emerging food deserts, areas where there is not a grocery store within one half mile of a residential neighborhood with high concentrations of low-income or minority populations.

Many of the people now living in North Dakota’s food deserts once lived lives rich in local foods with hunting, gathering, gardening and farming traditions. These Native American people were forced to re-settle to reservation lands where their access to food and land was greatly changed and/or restricted. Today, small dedicated groups of people are working to regain their food sovereignty.

Q: How can this data be used to help our communities?

I am so very pleased that North Dakota Compass has added information on this important topic! I have been inquiring for several years to find an organization to help make this information more widely available.

With this rich information, city and regional planners, economic developers, farmers and ranchers,  public health workers, university students and researchers, elected officials at all levels, hunger relief and health advocates and residents who are looking to improve health of North Dakotans through better access to food will be able to find the areas where healthy food is harder to come by. These gaps can then be targeted for filling with grocery stores or other places to find food.

The potential solutions to filling gaps in food access are about getting food to people or people to food. Grocery stores, supermarkets, and other large food retail stores are important solutions for increasing access to healthy foods by all. Other places, including backyard gardens, community gardens, farmers markets, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) ventures also play an important role. Food co-ops are another food retail option that is picking up food in our state. And an important part of providing food for all are the nearly 300 food pantries, food shelves, and shelters that are part of the Great Plains Food Bank network of partners.

With the new food access tools from North Dakota Compass, all these partners can be better connected and working together to build a healthier North Dakota.

Sources

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed 1/8/14 at https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm

United States Department of Agriculture, Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences, (AP-036), June 2009,  https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/42711/12716_ap036_1_.pdf

Morland, Kimberly, Steve Wing, and Ana Diez Roux. “The Contextual Effect of the Local Food Environment on Residents' Diets: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study.” American Journal of Public Health 92.11 (2002): 1761-768.

Economic and Community Development Outcomes of Healthy Food Retail, Policy Link and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, accessed on 2/7/14 at http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/reports/2013/rwjf406490

Metropolitan Food Systems Plan, Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments, 10/2013, http://download.cityoffargo.com/0/metropolitan_food_systems_plan_final_november_2013-1.pdf

Ask a researcher archive

Mariel Lopez-Valentin and Grace Njau. North Dakota Title X, Family Planning Needs Assessment
January 2022

Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund. North Dakota Lignite Energy Industry Workforce
December 2021

Ina Cernusca. Vaccine Acceptance and Hesitancy in North Dakota
October 2021

Nancy Hodur and Karen Olson. Rural Communities Will Benefit from a New Cooperative in Walsh County
September 2021

Matt Schmidt and Grace Njau. COVID-19 Trends Among North Dakota Children, March 2020 – March 2021
August 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter and Ina Cernusca. COVID Hardship on North Dakota Households: New study on the impacts on North Dakota households that lost employment income during the pandemic
July 2021

Chelsey Hukriede and Kendra Erickson-Dockter. NEW! PRAMS Points – A Brief Infographic using North Dakota PRAMS Survey Data
May 2021

North Dakota Compass: A look inside the 2021 Compass Points
April 2021

Ina Cernusca: Households with children are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
March 2021

Ina Cernusca: Differences in COVID-19 Risk Factors at District Level
February 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter, Chelsey Hukriede, and Grace Njau: An Introduction to the North Dakota Study of Associated Risks of Stillbirth (SOARS)
October 2020

Karen Ehrens: North Dakota Families are Facing Food and Other Hardships in the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic, and Helpers Respond
September 2020

Ina Cernusca: Taking the pulse of North Dakota households during the COVID-19 pandemic.
July 2020

Nancy Hodur:Challenges of Grocery Stores in Rural North Dakota
May 2020

North Dakota Compass:2020 Compass Points: Measuring progress. Inspiring action.
March 2020

Amy Tichy:Student Veterans in the College Classroom.
February 2020

North Dakota Compass:North Dakota Compass launches the 2020 State Legislative District Profiles
January 2020

Grace Njau, Nancy Hodur:&Chelsey Hukriede: Risk Behaviors among Women with a Recent Live Birth in North Dakota: Findings from the 2017 North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
November 2019

Ina Cernusca:& Karen Olson: Behind the scenes – The story of the North Dakota State Legislative District Profiles
October 2019

Ina Cernusca: Key demographic trends in North Dakota.
August 2019

Karen Olson: The 30th edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book finds that 175,772 children will shape the future of a more diverse North Dakota.
July 2019

Shweta Arpit Srivastava & Dr. Ann Burnett: “Giving rope and pulling it back”: Parental dilemmas to prevent adolescent substance use
June 2019

Ina Cernusca: 2019 Compass Points: Setting direction for improving the quality of life in North Dakota
May 2019

Joshua Marineau and Onnolee Nordstrom: Learning from Fargo -- An Exploration of the Fargo-Moorhead Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
March 2019

Nancy Hodur: Improving Oral Health for Older Adults in North Dakota
November 2018

Rachelle Vettern: Engaging Volunteers across Generations
October 2018

Karen Olson: The 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book reveals strengths and challenges for children in North Dakota – and emphasizes that an inaccurate census in 2020 threatens to worsen existing challenges for North Dakota youth
July 2018

Lori Capouch: Is food access a concern in rural North Dakota?
May 2018

Deb Nelson: Williston Basin 2016: Employment, Population, and Housing Forecasts – An Overview
January 2018

Karen Olson: North Dakota among Top 10 States in Country for Child Well-Being
July 2017

Nancy Hodur: SEAL!North Dakota: A School Dental Sealant Program
June 2017

Grace Njau: A Brief Introduction to the North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
April 2017

Ina Cernusca: North Dakota’s Women study: A brief overview
March 2017

Dean Bangsund: Effects of Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion on Spring Planting for Producers
February 2017

Deb Nelson: Vision West: Leading, Educating, and Collaborating to Mobilize the 19 Western North Dakota Counties Towards Resilience and Prosperity
December 2016

Nancy Hodur: North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment: A Brief Overview of the Population and Housing Forecast component
November 2016

Social Isolation: Experiential Narratives of African Refugee Women in the Fargo-Moorhead Community
September 2016

Sean Brotherson: Father Involvement and the Future of Children and Families
July 2016

Carol Cwiak: Bakken Oil: What Have We Learned and What Will We Do Differently Next Time
June 2016

Jessica Creuzer: The Changing Face of Western North Dakota: What are the Effects of Increased Travel from Energy Development
April 2016

ND Compass: City Profiles
February 2016

ND Department of Health: Making Change Happen
January 2016

Jennifer Weber: A Bold New Direction for the North Dakota University System - The NDUS Edge Dashboards
December 2015

Wendy Troop-Gordon: What Has Science Taught Us About Bullying?
November 2015

ND Compass: A Look at the Youngest North Dakotans
October 2015

Kendra Erickson-Dockter: Growing Older in North Dakota
September 2015

Michael Ziesch: Data You Can Trust: The Labor Market Information Center
August 2015

Malini Srivastava and Troy Raisanen: efargo: City Scale Sustainability
July 2015

Kevin Iverson: The State Repository of Census Information- The North Dakota Census
June 2015

Wonwoo Byun: Reducing Sedentary Behavior is a Key for Obesity Prevention in Children
May 2015

Kathryn Gordon: The Science of Suicide Prevention
April 2015

ND Compass: Tell a Story with Data! The Importance of Crade-to-Career Success
March 2015

Abby Gold: Community Food Systems: Food Charters and More
February 2015

Heather Fuller-Iglesias: The Importance of Recognizing the Role of Social Support in Human Development Across the Lifespan
January 2015

Michael Carbone: Using Data to End Homelessness
December 2014

Randal Coon: Tribal Colleges Contribute to the State's Economy
November 2014

Deb White: Women's Representation in Elected Office
October 2014

Randal Coon: Pull Factors Measure Retail Trade Performance
September 2014

Karen Olson: North Dakota ranks Well Nationally with Regard to Overall Child Well-Being; However, Substantial Opportunities for Improvement Exist
August 2014

Julie Garden-Robinson: Guard Against Grilling Gaffes: Healthy Grilling and Food Safety Tips
July 2014

Michael Noone: Extreme Weather Patterns- North Dakota Has It All
June 2014

Kathleen Tweeten: Why All Community Development Decisions Should Use the Community Capitals Framework
May 2014

Clayton Hilmert: Stress effects on pregnancy: The impact of the 2009 Red River flood on birth weight
April 2014

Karen Ehrens: Food Deserts and how they impact North Dakota
March 2014

Gretchen Dobervich and Kendra Erickson-Dockter: New Geographic Profiles: How they can work for you
February 2014

Compass Staff: "New Compass Team Brings Changes in 2014"
January 2014

Donna Grandbois: "Fargo-Moorhead American Indian Community-Sponsored Health Needs Assessment"
November 2013

Karen Olson: "North Dakota KIDS COUNT - why it counts for you
October 2013

Nancy Hodur: "Western North Dakota School Administrators Face Challenges"
August 2013

Megan Chmielewski: "Annual population estimates tell interesting stories about North Dakota's growth patterns"
July 2013

Ramona Danielson: "Learn how to make the ND Compass website work for you"
May 2013

Karen Olson: "About the American Community Survey (ACS)"
February 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2022. All rights reserved.