How To Eat Healthy When You Live In A Food Swamp

You have probably heard of a food desert, neighborhoods where healthy food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, are not to be found for miles. Nearly 40 million Americans live in one (via The Annie E. Casey Foundation), with lower income areas disproportionately affected. But while food deserts are associated with many poor health outcomes, including obesity, food swamps are even worse, according to a 2017 study out of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 

So what exactly is a food swamp? It's a geographic area where fast foods, processed foods, and cheap packaged foods are readily available at every turn. A food swamp is where there is so much non-nutritious food available that it's considered a public health threat (per University of Toronto). If you happen to be living in a food swamp, or find yourself in such an area, don't fret. Luckily, you still can take steps to ensure you eat healthy.

Tips for surviving and thriving in a food swamp

One of the most important things you can do if you live in a food swamp is carry healthy snacks on you (via the American Heart Association). The truth is that most unhealthy eating happens when you are outside of your house and are tempted to indulge in the fast food and mini-marketing offerings that abound in these regions. When you get hungry away from home, snacking on some trail mix or a health bar is often enough to stave off hunger pangs until you can get home and eat properly.

Another strategy for navigating a food swamp, without getting pulled under into the murky world of fried foods and greasy gastronomy, is to have a well thought out meal plan. A routine of weekly meals based around stocked-up fresh ingredients is a powerful incentive to skip by the fast-food joints and eat at home instead. Home-based meals are healthier than eating out, especially when compared to the typical swamp stop (per the Mayo Clinic). Plus, preparing meals at home allows you to sharpen your cooking skills and maybe even save money.

Long term solutions to the food swamp

Both food deserts and food swamps exist because of socio-economic factors (per Yale News), with poor communities facing numerous barriers to access to healthy food. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, low-income communities are more likely to face transportation challenges, lack supermarkets and be flooded with convenience markets, and simply not have the spending power to buy healthy food, which makes them risky for grocery stores or real restaurants to invest in.

Reversing these considerable obstacles requires systemic change, but there are some things that can be done right at the local level. Community gardens and urban agriculture bring fresh produce right into the harshest food deserts and provide healthy alternatives, combat food insecurity, and build community at the same time (via EOS). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, also has a variety of grants, loans, and programs aimed at bringing grocery stores, farmers markets, and other sources of nutritious food into American food deserts and food swamps.