Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Mindy Adnot
The USDA defines food deserts as “geographic areas where access to healthy, affordable food options… is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of full-service grocery stores within a convenient traveling distance”. I was inspired to research food deserts and food availability in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg because I was aware of the disconnect between food and consumers in urban areas, and also because of what I had learned about the extreme geographic polarization of income levels and race in the area, and its subsequent influence other factors. Specifically, I wanted to work with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg “Quality of Life” dataset through the lens of public health, because I believe lack of access to healthy food is a critical issue. The questions driving my data analysis were: do certain Charlotte-Mecklenburg neighborhoods have better access to grocery stores, and does economic and racial demographic distribution play any role in that?, and how does Charlotte-Mecklenburg fit into different definitions of food deserts? One dataset I dove into (“Quality of Life”) offered a wide variety of US Census variables that all related to lifestyle, already narrowed to the scope of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. The second dataset I utilized was the USDA’s “Food Access Research Atlas”, which provided data on the geographic accessibility of supermarkets in Mecklenburg County by census tract. One of my most prominent findings was that differences in grocery store proximity throughout the area (measuring the percentage of housing units within an area code a ½ mile or less from a grocery store) are not as distinct as I had expected, and not strongly correlated with the geographic racial segregation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Additionally, the availability of grocery stores has been steadily increasing throughout the past few years, which will hopefully continue to minimize USDA-defined food deserts.