Food deserts

This approach to identifying possible food deserts is useful if you have access to GIS and social research tools. It builds on the approach to Food accessibility outlined in food accessibility.

A food desert is an area where people do not have easy access to healthy, fresh foods. This is a particular issue in low socio-economic status areas and where there are members of the community who have limited mobility. Food deserts are an issue of social polarisation and exclusion.2, 3 Consultation with the local community (both residents and local businesses) is important in confirming presence of food deserts and determining suitable approaches to address the issue.

Issues compounding the food deserts as a problem include low income, locational policy of supermarkets with the acquisition of edge-of-town and out-of-town sites, consumer mobility, car ownership levels and food availability.1

Using GIS, it is possible to measure availability and accessibility of supermarkets within defined areas, in relation to:

  • Residential dwellings
  • Walking distance
  • Car ownership
  • Community characteristics
  • Travel distance along the road network. 3

Other Sources of Information

  • Community Food Assessment A First Step in Planning for Community Food Security: community food assessments (CFAs) by Wayne State University constitute a first step in planning for community food security. Through a study of nine CFAs, this article discusses common threads to planning, how a planning approach might strengthen CFAs and what planners might learn from them. Implications of this study for planning education, research and practice are discussed. (See
  • Food for All: How local government is improving access to nutritious food. Eight councils funded for three years through the Food for All program in Victoria are offering practical and sustainable ways to help residents living in disadvantaged areas access a variety of healthy foods. (See
  • Maribyrnong Fruit and Veg For All program: this Maribyrnong City Council program was developed to combat food insecurity and generate food security through community awareness and action. (See
  • Measuring Access to Healthy Food in Sandwell Final Report1: this report by the Sandwell Food Project provides a very good outline of objectives and methodology, data collection, data analysis and results.
  • A study of access and attitudes to food in the Deepdale and Ingol areas of Preston investigating barriers to accessing healthy food for different sectors of the community, the cost and availability of healthy food, and indicators of food access (See

Case Study

  • Measuring Healthy food access in Sandwell


  1. Dowler, E., Donkin, A., Grundy, C., Rex, D. 2001, Measuring Access to Healthy Food in Sandwell, Final Report, Summary [Online] available at:
  2. Furey, S., McIlveen, H., Strugnell, C. 1999, ‘Food Deserts: An Issue of Social Justice’, M/C Journal, vol. 2, issue 6 Oct 1999, [Online] Available at:
  3. O’Dwyer, L.A. and Coveney, J. 2006, ‘Scoping supermarket availability and accessibility by socio-economic status’, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, vol. 17, no. 3