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Chicago Making Progress Shrinking Vast 'Food Desert'

Thousands still lack access to quality food and grocery stores

CHICAGO, June 18 /PRNewswire/ -- In 2006, the groundbreaking report Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago identified more than 630,000 Chicagoans living in "food deserts," communities where fresh, quality food is hard to come by because of the lack of reputable grocery stores.

A wide range of market, community and government actors used the report to take action. Now, according to The Chicago Food Desert Progress Report, Chicago's food desert has shrunk by 1.4 square miles, benefiting nearly 24,000 people. However, more than 600,000 residents continue to reside in food deserts, most of them African American.

The research has provided an analysis that has helped Chicago officials prioritize 6 sites for grocers and a breakdown of the number of residents affected by food deserts by age, race, ethnicity, income and other characteristics.

Though the "desert" contracted overall, conditions worsened in some areas. For instance, since the previous study, a new grocer moved into West Englewood, positively impacting 307 blocks and roughly 40,000 people. But Chatham lost two grocers, worsening food access scores for 142 nearby blocks and about 16,000 people.

The 2009 report creates a new measure called Years of Potential Life Gained to calculate the years of life that could be gained by the community collectively if a grocery were to move in. For instance, if a grocery moved into the Roseland community at 115th Street and Michigan Avenue, it would benefit 24,000 people. The community, as a whole, would gain about 15 years of life back from diabetes, 58 years of life back from diet-related cancers, 112 years of life back from cardiovascular diseases and 13 years of life back from liver disease.

The Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group popularized the concept of "food deserts" with its groundbreaking 2006 research, which has inspired a spate of healthier restaurants and community gardens.

"Despite warnings from the Surgeon General, you can't choose healthy food if you don't have access to it. Adding a grocery store in a food desert community means healthy food choices are possible," Gallagher said.

The full report is available at Gallagher will conduct a conference call with the media Thursday (June 18) at 1 p.m. (CST). To participate, RSVP at and dial 877-277-0011, pass code 585466#.

SOURCE The Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group
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