Taking another crack at Atlanta’s food desert, this time targeting chronic disease

By David Pendered

Georgia State University and Morehouse School of Medicine have received a $400,000 federal grant to promote healthier food and physical activity in black neighborhoods in southwest Atlanta, where rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease are especially high.

Most of Atlanta's neighborhoods located south of Buckhead are identified as low income, with low access to grocery stores that provide healthy food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Credit: http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/go-to-the-atlas.aspx#.UZTwLeBQbVM

Most of Atlanta’s neighborhoods located south of Buckhead are identified as low income, with low access to grocery stores that provide healthy food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Credit: usda.gov

In addition, Atlanta is poised to address the city’s food deserts through a $50,000 grant to a program that’s not related to the GSU/Morehouse partnership, a spokesperson for Invest Atlanta said Thursday.

Residents of the neighborhoods to be addressed by both programs tend to have low incomes, low access to a supermarket, and low access to vehicles to get to a grocery store, according to a map released in March by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This triple whammy facilitates a diet that typically is short on fresh fruit and vegetables, and long on goods that often are high in salt and fat.

In addition, the lack of adequate sidewalks and parks results in residents getting less exercise than they should, past studies have shown.

“Physical inactivity and poor diet have been identified as the second actual cause of death in the U.S.,” Rodney Lyn, a GSU associate professor of health management and policy and the principal investigator, said in a statement.

“We know that physical activity and food environments influence individual behaviors,” Lyn said. “This project seeks to improve these environments in an effort to positively impact health behaviors and health outcomes among residents.”

Grocery store

The Green Island Food Market is one of just a few grocery stores near Ormand Street, in southwest Atlanta. File/Credit: David Pendered

Lyn’s group will be working with a team from Morehouse’s Prevention Research Center and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute.

The three-year project was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through a REACH grant. REACH, or Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, is a CDC effort to address gaps in healthcare access and outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities, according to the statement from GSU.

The project has two components:

  • “Leading an effort to encourage shops in the target neighborhoods to carry healthier food and beverage options. The Healthy Corner Store Initiative, modeled after a successful program in Philadelphia, will help participating stores inform residents about the new offerings, as well as the health benefits of better diets.
  • “Supporting community groups in identifying and adopting improvements that make it safer for people of all ages to walk and bike in their neighborhoods. The school will work with two community-based organizations, WeCycle Atlanta and Sustainable Lakewood, as well as community health workers and other community leaders to identify and address barriers to physical activity, such as dangerous intersections or a lack of sidewalks and bike lanes.”
The areas shaded in purple are those in which more than 100 households don't have access to a vehicle and are located more than a half-mile from a supermarket. Credit: usda.gov.

The Census tracts shaded in purple are those in which more than 100 households don’t have access to a vehicle and are located more than a half-mile from a supermarket. Credit: usda.gov.

The project’s goal is to increase access to healthy food for at least 75 percent of residents in the targeted communities. The initiative intends to prevent diabetes and other chronic diseases.

The lack of access to healthy food has been an ongoing issue for many Atlanta neighborhoods south of Buckhead.

Atlanta hoped to help in 2013 from allocations from the New Market Tax Credits program. For the first time, the program enabled recipients to target food deserts. But in Atlanta, no private sector partners stepped forward to ask for assistance to open a supermarket or otherwise address the problem.

Invest Atlanta, the city’s development authority, this year provided $50,000 in grant funding to entrepreneurs who complete a program at the Center of Civic Innovation’s Food Access Lab. The money is intended to fund five or six entrepreneurs who come up with good proposals to help people get food that’s healthy, fresh, affordable, and clean. The money is coming from Atlanta’s proceeds from the federal New Markets Tax Credits program.

CCI also has received commitments from Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Arby’s Foundation, and Merrill Lynch, an Invest Atlanta spokesperson said Thursday.

In addition, Fulton County has operated a food truck in these neighborhoods, and workers provided healthy foods and taught residents how to prepare them.

A map from the Department of Agriculture shows that most of Atlanta, south of Buckhead, is home to residents with low income and low access to a supermarket.

Low access is defined as Census tracts where a significant number or share of residents live more than a half-mile from a supermarket. Low income is defined as Census tracts with poverty rates 20 percent or higher, or tracts with median household income of less than 80 percent of the metro average.

The median household income in metro Atlanta was $55,733 in 2013, according to the Census.

In addition, access to a vehicle to get to a supermarket is low in the same general area. Low vehicle access is defined as Census tracts where more than 100 households are more than a half-mile from a supermarket, and have no access to a vehicle.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

6 replies
  1. Avatar
    Alan Holmes says:

    I hear you Chad….but I dont think the Beltline needs to be getting anymore grant funds than they already have. I believe the need for these grants arose from the very fact that the Beltline doesnt have the money to fund initiatives like this. If they cant pay the school system what they owe…it also calls into question whether they can support healthy initiatives in areas near the Westside trail Chad CarlsonReport

  2. Avatar
    Alan Holmes says:

    On top of that, I think the Cascade Kroger overall is a terrible store. They sell low grade fruits and vegetables(organic and non organic) that go bad far sooner than they should (compared to when I purchase from local grocers like the Big. Bear),and even put out tons of bad/spoiled chicken out as if ppl will purchase it. Not to mention they have long lines no matter what time you go there to shop, and corporate is no responsive when legitimate complaints are brought up. I think this grant would be great if it can get a handful of corner stores to begin to at least stock some fruits/vegetables grown from local urban farms…and give Kroger some competition. They thrive bc they have none Chad CarlsonReport

  3. Avatar
    Chad Carlson says:

    I need to try Big Bear. I have actually been surprised that Cascade Kroger carries most of the stuff that I had in the past gone to Trader Joes in Midtown for.Report


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