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by intern Christine Binder

On February 9th, Michelle Obama unveiled Let’s Move, an initiative with the ambitious goal of solving the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation. As part of the initiative, the First Lady and her team also launched an interactive Food Environment Atlas. It is an important source of food environment statistics and a great way to visualize the ability of different communities to access healthy food, but it’s also a lot of fun to play with and explore.

You can look at 90 different characteristics of the food environment by state, region, or county. Who pays the most for milk? In which states do people eat the most fruits and veggies, or drink the most soda? Where are the greatest numbers of grocery stores or farmers’ markets located? How much money do Americans spend on fast food every year? Where are obesity levels the highest?

As you look at all of the different maps, you’ll probably notice that there are a lot of places in this country where healthy foods are not readily available – and even more places where unhealthy foods are. One of the four pillars of Let’s Move is Accessible and Affordable Healthy Food. This is important because 23.5 million Americans, 6.5 million of which are children, live in what are called “food deserts.”

A food desert is a neighborhood with little or no access to fresh, healthy foods, due to a lack of grocery stores or farmers markets’, often in combination with high food prices. Most food deserts are located in urban or rural areas. Even though they lack grocery stores, food deserts often contain plenty of fast food restaurants and convenience stores where cheap and unhealthy processed foods are sold. It’s not hard to see that eating healthfully in a food desert is extremely challenging.