Food insecurity is a contemporary issue within urban cities largely due to the emergence of food deserts. Food deserts are areas in which a lack of access to healthy food exists within households and neighbourhoods (Leete, Bania, & Sparks-Ibanga, 2012). Obesity rates are higher within food deserts due to lack in availability of nutritious food (Shannon, 2013). Having access to nutritious food is crucial to combatting public health issues related to obesity, such as cardiovascular disease and type two diabetes (Sadler, Gilliland, and Arku, 2011). These issues are prevalent in low-income areas since there are fewer retail sources which offer healthy foods and more sources that offer unhealthy foods in these communities (Polsky et al, 2014). Complexities exist in determining the location of food deserts, as well as identifying best possible locations for siting new food services that accommodate the greatest number of food insecure people.
There are numerous determinants that constitute an area as a food desert. Income is one of the most important causes of household food insecurity (Rose, 1999). Intuitively, low-income households and neighbourhoods will have less to spend on groceries and consequently struggle in sustaining a healthy diet. Another determinant involves large-scale grocery store locations that drive smaller local grocers out of business, causing stores to relocate away from low-income areas (Eckert & Shetty, 2011). Furthermore, Chung and Myers (1999) observed in their article that grocers located around low-income households and neighbourhoods often carry higher prices for food than ones located in middle or high-income neighbourhoods. Gilliland and Larsen (2009) further assessed this occurrence and analyzed how the presence of farmers’ markets mitigate higher costs and improve the food accessibility issue. Still, the emergence of farmers’ markets is limited in urban areas and high grocery costs remain yet another contributing economic factor to determining where and why food deserts exist. Distance from households to adequate food services is a factor that is considered in the identification of food services. For example, an area that is beyond walking distance or requires extensive travel time through transit is considered a food desert (Jiao et al., 2012).
Though efforts have been made to mitigate the existence of food deserts, spatial representations of food deserts are imperative in the pursuit of identifying these areas. Using GIS is the first step in facilitating tangible change within communities that are food insecure. By using a multi-criteria evaluation (MCE), it is possible to display the risk of residing in a food insecure area. Finally, a suitability analysis can identify new locations for food services.
The purpose of this research project is to use GIS applications to identify food deserts and to site new food services locations in the Community of Hamilton, Ontario, in order to mitigate food insecurity.