Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This Week: Food For Thought

Ladies and gents, it is my pleasure to introduce this week's guest blogger, class of 2010 MPH Candidate, Acasia Olson. As a member of the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association's GetFED: Food Equality in D.C. subcommittee, Acasia has a unique and informed insight into a major health problem occurring right in GW's backyard.

A Google search of the 2010 national health awareness issues will direct you to a site listing a day, week, or month dedicated to over 100 public health issues. From Celiac Disease to nutrition awareness or minority health, individuals and groups alike have organized and rallied to bring attention to preventable and often overlooked health concerns. While some of us may have known that November was American Diabetes Month, how many of you can say you were excited in the days leading up to National Food Desert Awareness Month? No, seriously…For those of you who almost dropped that leftover turkey leg in surprise, I’m here to tell you that September is recognized as Food Desert Awareness Month. You may be wondering why I would be talking about an observance that took place three months ago. Food deserts are a social determinant that cause a huge disparity within the public's health.

The US Department of Agriculture defines food deserts (not to be confused with the decadent sumptuousness of pumpkin pie and peach cobbler), as geographic areas where access to nutritious, affordable, healthy foods is extremely limited, or absent. Instead of shopping at full scale grocery stores or in farmers’ markets, people trapped in food deserts must rely on an overwhelming supply of fast food, carry-out and cornerstore establishments for their daily source of pseudo-nutrients. Further, food deserts are most often found in communities with large minority populations and low-socioeconomic status. 

So what does this have to do with you, an aspiring or current public health professional in the nation’s capital? I’m glad you asked. I won’t belabor you with statistics which state that D.C. wards 4, 5, 7, and 8 have the highest proportion of overweight/obesity and diabetes. And, I don’t want to assume you’re oblivious of CDC data from 2010, which reports African-Americans as having a 51% higher prevalence of obesity than Whites, and that related illnesses have become increasingly endemic in low-income communities. You’re probably sharp enough to notice that these days, the “chocolate city” isn’t all that sweet. But it can be, and will be. 

The D.C. Council has taken legal action to eliminate the presence of food deserts, through the introduction of the Food, Environment and Economic Development of DC (FEED DC) Act of 2010. Non-profit organizations, such as D.C. Hunger Solutions and Healthy Solutions, D.C. are working with food businesses and residents to increase access to healthy affordable food. The Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association (MWPHA) has also taken action, through the tireless efforts of their GetFED: Food Equality in DC subcommittee, which currently consists of MPH students and interested community members. While members of these groups have made commendable strides, the work has only just begun. Though there may be a shortage of equal access to healthy food within the District, there isn’t a shortage of passionate members within the community of public health…can we count on you?

For more information on ways to eliminate food deserts, visit us at: GetFED, or send us an email at:

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“Ultimately, happiness rests on how you establish a solid sense of self or being. Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in your life. To be filled each day with a rewarding sense of exhilaration and purpose, a sense of tasks accomplished and deep fulfillment- people who feel this way are happy. Those who have this sense of satisfaction even if they are extremely busy are much happier than those who have time on their hands but feel empty inside.” – Daisku Ikeda