Food Disparities—The Major Contributor to Health Inequities in Southeast Michigan

Today's post is authored by MedEq's Nutrition Contributor, Rosie Reilly. She is pursuing a major in nutrition here at Wayne State and has an extensive background in food disparities.  

Health problems in America’s low-income communities are, in general, substantially more severe than they are in the rest of the nation. Food disparities leading to poor nutrition in these areas are seen as a major contributor to this outcome. Diet-related health problems in both Detroit and Metro Detroit are worse in areas of food imbalance, even after accounting for differences in income, education, and race. (2) Fast food and fringe food outlets are found on almost every street corner of Detroit, and unfortunately quality grocery stores, where fresh and healthy foods can be purchased, almost cease to exist.

Research is progressively demonstrating significant links between dietary health of impoverished populations and the presence of grocery supermarkets located nearby their neighborhoods. (3) The problem from a public health standpoint is that there are few food venues that appear to sell quality or healthy foods in which people need for a complete healthy diet. In addition, these small independently owned grocers tend to offer fewer choices, charge higher prices, and have inferior food safety compared to supermarkets. (3) Transportation plays a key role in food security, in which many consumers in Detroit do not have easy access, and this therefore constrains their ability to access affordable nutritious foods. The distance some citizen’s travel to the closest supermarket is about twice as far as the nearest convenience store location. Consequently, this leads to a lower degree of community food security, which generates the high degree of food imbalance that steals life and vitality from Detroit citizens, and the rest of Southeast Michigan, living close to many fringe food options and far from mainstream grocers.

In areas suffering from food disparities, significant portions of the clientele depend on government nutrition programs, such as SNAPs. (1) Sadly, in Detroit, USDA Food Stamp retailers are the primary fringe food locations, such as gas stations, liquor stores, party stores, dollar stores, bakeries, pharmacies, and convenience stores. (2) None of which specialize in the sales of healthy or nutritious foods but who sell pre-packaged/canned foods, liquor, tobacco, and candy. All of which are high in fat, salt, and added sugars, which do not meet adequate nutrition standards to fulfill a healthy nutritious diet.  No wonder the proximity of these fringe food stores seems more appealing than to the journey to the supermarket, the government funding is aiding in the decision.

Finally, Consumers are not the only ones who suffer from food disparities.  Store owners located in these disadvantaged communities tend to experience low levels of investment from leading commercial supermarket enterprises, banks, and may receive lower priority with wholesalers/distributors, in terms of timeliness of delivery potentially, receiving produce that is wilted. (3)

Whether you are diabetic, an elderly person, a young professional, or a mother trying to raise a healthy child, following a doctor’s dietary recommendations is likely difficult if you live in one of these far out- of-balanced areas. Food imbalance will likely leave its mark directly on the quality, productivity, and length of these people’s lives, and indirectly on healthy care costs and the economic vitality of the city of Detroit and the Southeast region of Michigan. (2) Unless access to healthy food greatly improves, they predict that, over time, those residents will continue to have greater rates of premature illness and death from diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, obesity, and other diet related complications. (2) In order for serious change to take place, the food desert residents, surrounding communities and businesses, and government must to work together and take action against food inequity before it reaches a new level.



 (1)Economic Research Service. Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences. Rep. USDA, June 2009. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. <>.

 (2) Gallagher, Mari. Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Detroit. Publication. Chicago: Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group, 2007. Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group. LaSalle Bank, 19 June 2007. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

 (3) Pothukuchi, Kameshwari, Rayman Mohamed, and David A. Gebben. Explaining Disparities in Food Safety Compliance by Food Stores: Does Community Matter? Publication. N.p.: Springer Science + Business Media B.V., 2008. Explaining Disparities in Food Safety Compliance by Food Stores: Does Community Matter? Spinger, 2008. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. <>.