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More than 53 million or 17% of Americans were considered low-income and had little to no access to supermarkets or similar large food stores, according to 2019 data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The USDA defines food deserts as an area where low-income people do not have easy access to large food retailers. These food deserts particularly impact urban areas. Ninety-six percent of people in a food desert, 51.7 million, lived in urban areas in 2019.
The USDA considers a tract low-access if at least 500 people or a third of the population lives more than a half-mile away from the nearest food retailer in urban tracts or more than 10 miles away in rural tracts. Types of food retailers considered in the count exclude convenience stores and smaller food sellers.
Among the 51 metro areas with more than a million people in 2010, Memphis, Tennessee had the highest share of its population — 32% — who are both low-income and live in tracts with this definition. The New York City area had 3% of its population living in food deserts.
About a third of people in food deserts, 17.2 million people, live more than a mile away from the nearest urban food store or at least 20 miles from the nearest rural food retailer. Six percent of Americans are in these more extreme food deserts. Urban residents account for 16.9 million of those people.
Twelve percent of Memphis residents live in such food deserts, still the highest among the largest metro areas. Six metro areas have 1% or less of its population living in these deserts: San Jose, Calif., New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon.
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