Food deserts and food swamps

Discussions about public health have centred on ‘food deserts’ and ‘food swamps’, according to studies and reactions in the media.

But what are these food deserts and food swamps? Do they now define a generation and their eating habits? How can they be countered?


Food desert

A food desert is defined, by The Guardian, as “neighbourhoods where poverty, poor public transport and a dearth of big supermarkets severely limit access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables.”

This concoction of social aspects is set predominantly in out-of-town housing estates and deprived areas where the options are relatively expensive corner shops and where 5,000-15,000 people are served by two or fewer big supermarkets.

Food swamps

A food swamp is classed as an area where there is a high level of fast food outlets which provide excessive temptation to those living in the area. High streets in deprived areas tend to have a wealth of takeaways and options for that type of fatty food, making for a greater likelihood that people will choose an unhealthy lifestyle with regards their food choice.


Our expert dietitian, Dawn Shotton, who is part of our weight loss programme, explained the importance of variety when it came to food choices in local communities:

“It is true that some communities have very few affordable options for fruit and vegetables on their doorstep. Sometimes, small local providers will struggle to compete with mass grown cheaper fruit and vegetables available in supermarkets, which are often not in deprived areas.  Local schemes – that support local growers and farmers – not only help the local access to fresh affordable foods, but they reduce food miles and also support our local growers. The fresher foods can be, and the less time it takes to get them from farm to plate, the more nutritious they are likely to be.”

It seems the prevalence of food swamps is having a detrimental impact on communities affected by this social issue. A possible solution? Counter the extensive choice of fast food outlets with a range of shops selling fruit and vegetables at affordable prices. That, at least, levels the playing field. But putting that into practice is easier said than done.


Pic credit: Food photo created by lifeforstock –