Remote Areas Could Potentially Impact Your Healthy Lifestyle
Written by: Justin Cowart
I have lived in a few different areas around the U.S. and Mexico and have noticed how the availability of healthy food can greatly impact my health.
For instance, when I have lived in bigger cities or even suburban areas where healthy food costs are down and a variety of food is available, then it is much easier to follow a balanced diet. Whereas when I live way out in the country and it is 20+ miles to the nearest health food store, I end up compromising more and more.
This lack of convenience has really played with my laziness and I know that it has effected me. After doing some research, I found out that I wasn’t the only one with this problem.
How “Food Deserts” Can Affect You
Mayonnaise, pork and cookies versus kale, hummus and bagels. This tends to be the enormous difference between food choices amidst the groups of people in the northeastern part of the United States.
The type of foods that tend to be on the first half of the list are more apparent in social media news feeds in the northeastern food deserts. Food deserts is a term that is used by the United States Department of Agriculture or (USDA) to describe the communities of people with more limited access to grocery stores in general. The second half of the list, however, is more exclusive to non-food deserts.
A brand new study that was conducted by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology has been able to identify the food choices and even the nutritional profiles of different people who live in both types of communities throughout the United States.
This study included 3 million geo-tagged posts on the social media platform Instagram, where food seems to reign as king. The researchers were also able to find out that the majority of food that was posted (and also eaten) by people in food deserts was 5-17% higher in fat, sugars and cholesterol when compared to the food shared in non-food desert areas.
The leader of this particular study was Munmun De Choudhury, who is an assistant professor from Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing.
She says that,
“The USDA identifies food deserts based on the availability of fresh food. Instagram literally gives us a picture of what people are actually eating in these communities, allowing us to study them in a new way.”
This study was able to identify the foods that tend to be more exclusive to each individual community in four other regions of the United States as well.
Below is the breakdown of the four areas:
- Southeast: Bacon, potatoes and grits (food deserts) versus collard greens, oranges and peaches (non-food deserts).
- Midwest: Hamburgers, hot dogs and brisket versus beans, spinach and kale.
- West: Pie, beef and sausage versus quinoa, apple and crab
- Southwest: Barbeque, pork and burritos versus tomatoes, asparagus and bananas
“Fruits and vegetables are the biggest difference. Forty-eight percent of posts from people in non-food deserts mention them. It’s only 33 percent in food deserts.”
De Choudhury goes on to say,
“That would seem counterintuitive at first because so much of the south is designated as a food desert… But other statistics show that Southern people generally eat high calorie food that is rich in fat and cholesterol.”
There is one final note regarding the food on Instagram: the pictures of meals that tend to be posted most often by both groups turn out to be the staples of each one of the regions. Coffee and steak in the West; cheesecake and lox in the East; biscuits and okra in the South.
Finally De Choudhury says,
“It doesn’t matter where you live. Everyone seems to eat what their region is known for.”
Being born and raised in southeast Texas, it has been quite the struggle to find great sources of food that not only provide healthy benefits for my body, but are also not deep fried. Yes, it is true, in the south we tend to deep fry the majority of our food and we love our meat. From the part of Texas where I am from, there is a local saying that goes,
“If I can’t eat meat, then you might as well put me down!”
It has been difficult, but if you are diligent in your efforts to find good, healthy food and take that first step towards change, you will find the health food that suits you best and before you know it, it will be your new way of life!
What You Can Do To Break The Norm
There are many ways that you can break the norm and make sure that you are getting the best nutrition possible from your diet. Some of these are more long term strategies whereas others don’t take much time at all.
1. Grow Your Own Food – This plan takes the longest, but it assures that you are getting the very best on your plate each day. Supplement what healthy food you can find in the store by growing your own organic food at home. Since I currently rent, I like to get a variety of herbs and grow them in my kitchen so that I can enjoy fresh food whenever I cook.
2. Order Healthy Food Online – Thrive Market and other programs have affordable foods for you to purchase and have shipped to you even if you live way out in the country. This helped me survive when I first moved to Texas and didn’t yet know where everything was.
3. Farmers Markets – Many local groups will have ads in the paper or groups on Facebook to let you know when and where you can buy awesome, locally-grown produce.
4. Exercise – This may seem a bit out of the box, but whenever I exercise regularly, I am less likely to compromise on eating healthy. Who wants to spoil their workout with low quality food? Exercise can help you stay healthy and it is okay to be a bit more picky about what you choose to eat after.
5. Meditation – The more body-aware and sensitive you become, the more you will want to seek healthy food and not give in to the unhealthy habits of those around you.
Living a healthy lifestyle is possible, even if you do live in a “food desert.” Let us know in the comments below what you do to break the norm and eat healthy!
Justin Cowart is a writer and researcher that loves to learn more about health, life, consciousness and making the world a better place. He loves music, traveling, meditation, video games and spending time with family and friends. He believes in baby steps and lifestyle changes in order to live a full life. In 2014, he lost around 40lbs from baby steps and emotional detoxing.
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