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The term food desert was coined in the late 1990s by policy makers to describe low-income neighborhoods with poor access to fresh and affordable food. One criterion for defining a food desert is when people have to walk more than 500 meters to a shop selling healthy food—or, expressed another way, the distance it takes a fit person to walk in 10–15 minutes. In reality, the concept extends beyond how retail geography and planning affect access to healthy food and into wider debates about social exclusion and its links to poor diet and health. A complex combination of factors has emerged that present obstacles to eating a healthy diet for those surviving on a low income.

In the 1960s, major changes in food retail systems led ...

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