Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Mapping Food Access For Let's Move: USDA Launches The Food Environment Atlas

Visualizing the obesity epidemic...and the kind of food access that may have caused it
First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled a new Food Environment Atlas today as part of the launch of Let's Move. USDA's Economic Research Service has just gone live online with the interactive graphic visualization tool, which provides "a spatial overview" of "a community's ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so." Mrs. Obama noted to her audience that it was a good way to understand the 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million American children, who live in 'food deserts,' which she defined as "'communities without a supermarket." (Above: Mrs. Obama explains the Food Atlas)

The Atlas is as ambitious as the First Lady's campaign in its attempt to document the complicated food environment factors—such as store/restaurant proximity, food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, and community characteristics — that interact to influence food choices and diet quality. It also has data on prevalence rates of obesity by age, and race, and rates of poverty, for children and adults. The map, above, is from the new Atlas, and it's for low income pre-school obesity rates, and thus shows part of the population Mrs. Obama's campaign, which seeks to "end child obesity in a generation," must impact. There are plenty of kids who are not identified as low-income who also must be part of Mrs. Obama's campaign, in order for the campaign to achieve its goal.

The Atlas uses old and new data: Some data are from the last Census of Population in 2000 while others are as recent as 2009. Some are at the county level while others are at the State or regional level.

The statistics are assembled under three broad categories of food environment factors:
  • Food Choices—Indicators of the community's access to and acquisition of healthy, affordable food, such as: access and proximity to a grocery store; number of foodstores and restaurants; expenditures on fast foods; food and nutrition assistance program participation; quantities of foods eaten; food prices; food taxes; and availability of local foods
  • Health and Well-Being—Indicators of the community’s success in maintaining healthy diets, such as: food insecurity; diabetes and obesity rates; and physical activity levels
  • Community Characteristics—Indicators of community characteristics that might influence the food environment, such as: demographic composition; income and poverty; population loss; metro-nonmetro status; natural amenities; and recreation and fitness centers
Related: A transcript of the First Lady's remarks at today's launch event in the State Dining Room is here. A video from the Let's Move website of Mrs. Obama introducing the campaign is here. President Obama's memo on the child obesity task force is here. A post on the Oval Office signing ceremony for the memorandum is here.

*Photo by Obama Foodorama