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Privilege is a Key Determinant of Health

In our world of abundance there are growing areas of scarcity, our urban cities. These growing areas of scarcity once used to be bastions of wealth, but are now best known for their decaying infrastructures and lack of resources.

In some cases urban cities have faced industrial decline, in others its an issue of poor residents being marginalized. Either way, the health disparities that accompany low-income and minority communities is abhorrent.

One of the top health indicators related to privilege that can be seen in these communities is access to healthy food options. From Los Angeles to Detroit to Philadelphia, various communities lack basic nutritional resources like fresh produce and as a result have been disproportionately hit by health conditions related to lifestyle such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

In the Ramona Gardens projects of Los Angeles, residents have to travel 3 miles by bus to reach the closest supermarket for fresh produce. The other small shops in the community just can’t stock as much as larger stores because they don’t sell the same quantities or they would have to charge higher prices. The health impacts such as hypertension and childhood obesity noted by a free clinic in the community show how critical access to healthy food options can be. The Ramona Gardens project is a great example of privilege playing a role in the health of low-income and minority communities by way of accessibility of resources.

Similar issues have been found in black, low-income communities of Philadelphia. Like many urban areas, grocery stores fled to the suburbs where there was more space for larger stores and safer neighborhoods, not to mention higher paying customers. As a result of a community mapping survey, almost 20 supermarkets have opened in Philadelphia with the help of state funding. This brought access to healthy food for many low-income communities in the city.

As recently as 2007, large grocery stores have pulled out of Detroit. Not many have attempted to stay and Farmer Jack was the last standing. Detroit is often called a “food desert” because it lacks a major chain supermarket. The problem is not necessarily a lack of supermarkets, but rather the scarcity of healthy food options. Martin Manna, the Executive Director of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce of Southfield said,

“There usually is a market within walking distance of nearly every area of Detroit. It might not be a supermarket. That might be why there are so many people eating potato chips rather than wholesome foods in Detroit.”

Other Detroit residents have noted the lack of options at Detroit stores. Some stores claim to be serving a “black clientèle,” but  Gordon Alexander, who lives on the East side, says its just an excuse for stocking bad quality goods. This is a perfect example of racial privilege compounding income disparities when it comes to healthy food options in Detroit.

Our world of abundance needs to be able to serve everyone. There should be no reason that low-income communities struggle to purchase fresh produce or healthier foods. We can’t allow fast-food chains to make profits in the “marketplace of the poor” and add to the health disparities of minority communities. If anything, we should be able to find a way to offer healthy food to all citizens of our country regardless of race, income level, or location.

About Alex B. Hill

Currently a Community Health Worker in Detroit, Alex is completing a Masters in Medical Anthropology. Alex holds a Bachelors degree in International Relations and African Studies from Michigan State University with a specialization in International Development and Social Movements. Alex founded and organizes the non-profit, SCOUT BANANA, a cooperative coalition of student groups focused on supporting increased access to health care in Africa. The organization has worked with seven different projects in six different African countries serving over 700,000 people by raising $200,000 and mobilizing 60,000 students. As well as advocating for health access issues across Africa, Alex has worked with a number of grassroots health projects, including: HIV/AIDS education and testing in South Africa, community health assessments in Ghana, and emergency services in Uganda. In 2008, Alex co-founded with three other students the Articulate Journal to give young people a voice in international development and health care. Alex believes strongly in community-based development as most effective and that young people are the key drivers of social change.

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One comment

  1. Patrick McDermott

    I think too many people forget about this problem and I’m very glad that you highlighted it. I would add however that the solution is not simply to bring supermarket chains to more impoverished urban dwellings for lower-income populations to take advantage of. If a supermarket comes into the area, that is by no means a guarantee that there will be healthier options for people. Supermarkets are notoriously known for selling many unhealthy products cheaply because they have been so heavily subsidized. Often times, the healthier options, such as organic produce and non-processed foods are more expensive and many families cannot afford such food if they want it. I think the solution is two pronged, food needs to be more accessible to lower-income people in urban areas, but it needs to be the right kind of food. And the only way to make sure of this is through a policy change.