Nutrition and Food Access

For tens of thousands of Erie residents, access to healthy, affordable foods is a real challenge. Food deserts, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, are an area where at least 33 percent of residents live one mile or more from the nearest grocery store or supermarket.

Food deserts tend to be more concentrated in low-income, minority neighborhoods, where residents often lack access to a vehicle or reliable transportation. With fewer supermarkets and grocery stores and a higher concentration of small convenience stores located in food deserts, access to healthy, affordable foods is a growing problem. Many corner stores offer highly processed, packaged, high-fat, high-salt or high-sugar food and drinks. Without access to the foods that make up a healthy diet, individuals are more likely to be overweight, experience poor health, and have increased risks of many diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The Erie County Department of Health is working to make healthy, sustainable improvements in our community through education, promotion and community outreach.

So how do you know if you live in a food desert? The USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas is a free tool that allows you to see the location of food deserts anywhere in the country – you can even search by address. This tool allows you to see areas of low income and low access (by distance and vehicle access), in addition to census information by clicking a given area.

Resources For Online SNAP Purchases

In Pennsylvania, residents who receive SNAP/EBT are now able to buy SNAP eligible foods and drinks online through Walmart and Amazon. These benefits can also be used to buy plants and seeds to grow food at home. This is a great way to get food if you live in a food desert or are unable to make it to your nearest grocery store. For more information, please check out these resources: