Experts: 'Food deserts' linked to childhood obesity

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ATLANTA —

Kendall Wood is a personal trainer. Most days he works with adults, but his passion is working with children. He hosts free camps that focus on being active and eating healthy.

Still, eating healthy is hard for many families in metro Atlanta because they don't have access to healthy foods.

"When we think of healthy eating and healthy foods what do we automatically think about? We think of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's," Wood said. "Whole Foods and Trader Joe's do not set up stores in urban areas that may have a median income of $30,000."

Felicia Fernandez knows that reality well. In the past, just getting to the regular grocery store was a task. She'd take a bus, then a train, then walk.

"You're taking like an hour and a half just one way," Fernandez said. "So when you get to the grocery store it's like, can I just get a can of beans or something simple and something easy, just so you can be done."

Dr. Latetia Moore is an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"You can't tell someone to eat better and their environment is set up against them," Moore said. "There are disparities where food is located. Minority, rural and low income areas tend to be more affected by this issue."

Many experts call them "food deserts." Moore said there are different ways of calculating them. By CDC standards, if there is no grocery store or farmer's market, and no other option within a half mile of a census block or neighborhood, that's considered a food desert.

According to a 2011 study, 30 percent of areas in Georgia fall into that category.

"If you don't have access within a reasonable distance, dietary quality is a little poorer and health outcomes are a little worse," Moore said.

It's a problem directly linked to childhood obesity. It also contributes to children being unhealthy in general.

Experts advise people living in food deserts to seek out community gardens and farmers markets. Residents who don't have a community are urged to create one.

There's also a program called Wholesome Wave for people on food stamps. It will double their purchasing power at farmers markets.

Savio Fernandez loves vegetables. Now that his mother has discovered an urban farm in northeast Atlanta, it's provided a convenient healthy option for his family.

"Here it offers stuff you can actually afford," Felicia Fernandez said.

Affordability is a big part of the issue. That's why Wood said the mentality needs to change from the top.

"Agriculture is probably our second largest industry in Georgia. And most of the government subsidies are going toward corn, wheat and soy," Wood said. "Why can't we change our subsidies to kale, broccoli and spinach. Now that would mean we'd have great products for less cost in most areas."