, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 447-457

An investigation of the potential existence of ``food deserts'' in rural and urban areas of Northern Ireland

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Food Deserts have recently beenidentified in the United Kingdom. They havebeen defined by Tessa Jowell, UK GovernmentHealth Minister, as an area ``where people donot have easy access to healthy, fresh foods,particularly if they are poor and have limitedmobility.'' The above definition is particularlyrelevant in Northern Ireland, where it isestimated that 32% of households do not haveeasy access to a car and it is recognized thatcertain groups in Northern Ireland are amongstthe poorest consumers in the United Kingdom.The phenomenon has been further exacerbated bythe effect of large grocery retailers locatingon the periphery of towns and the subsequentdisplacement effect of independent retailers inthe town center. The resultant effect is suchthat disadvantaged consumers cannot accessfresh, quality, nutritious foods at anaffordable price. Preliminary researchindicates that certain consumer groups areexcluded from equitable shopping provision –possibly to the detriment of their healthstatus. Research methodology includes aconsumer questionnaire, consumer focus groups,interviews, and comparative shopping exercisesthat confirm an inability among vulnerableconsumer groups to achieve an affordable,healthy diet. This was further complicated bynon-car owners' and lower-income family unitsneeding to shop locally and more frequentlythan their higher-income, car-ownercounterparts. This was demonstrated with theuse of shopping diaries. Future research to beconducted includes a large-scale survey acrossNorthern Ireland to ascertain accessibility,availability, and affordability of qualityfresh foods and to distinguish the consumergroups who are most vulnerable.