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Food Deserts, Gentrification, and Public Health Nutrition: A Case Study of the Shaw/U-Street Neighborhood of Washington D.C. Open Access

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In both urban and rural areas across the United States, over 23.5 million Americans do not have access to fresh fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. These areas, also known as food deserts, contribute to a wide variety of diet-related illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. While many believe that building a new grocery store in a food desert would benefit the residents by improving their access to healthy and affordable foods, many researchers are now suggesting that economic and cultural factors associated with these new grocery stores may actually prevent low-income residents from accessing the new, healthy foods. Within the last twenty years, many low-income, urban neighborhoods have undergone the process of gentrification, or redevelopment in order to attract educated, middle- to upper-income individuals to the area to improve economic sustainability. While gentrification can have some positive outcomes, there are also several cultural, political, and social consequences associated with gentrification. Studies surrounding retail gentrification note that long-term residents of gentrified neighborhoods typically feel negatively towards new businesses that cater to newcomers, and grocery stores are no exception. In Washington D.C., the previous food desert and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Shaw/U-Street has gained two high-end grocery stores within the last fifteen years: Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s. Because these grocers tend to be more expensive and promote lifestyles that are associated with the newcomers’ culture, many would assume that these grocery stores have not benefitted the long-term residents of the Shaw/U-Street neighborhood and have instead created a food mirage; however, the addition of these grocery stores have benefitted the long-standing residents by improving the overall food environment in the surrounding neighborhood.

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