Food Deserts, the Cause and a Solution

By Alan Hoffman, Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs
March 11, 2015

How Herbalife nutrition products are filling a disturbing void in Los Angeles’ largest urban neighborhoods.

My hometown of Los Angeles is fortunate to have many great attributes: engaged and diverse communities, vibrant business opportunities, and phenomenal weather that lends itself to a strong desire to lead a healthier lifestyle. Yet, my hometown also enjoys one other thing: far too many “food deserts.”

What is a Food Desert?
“Food Deserts” are defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.”

In order to get a real sense of the role food deserts play in my city, it is important to look at the communities that make up Los Angeles. South Los Angeles has a population of 1,009,550. West Los Angeles has a population of 637,129.

  • South Los Angeles has nearly 6,000 people per grocery store
  • West Los Angeles has 3,763 people per grocery store
  • South Los Angeles has 168,259 people per farmers’ market
  • West Los Angeles has 39,821 people per farmers’ market
  • Adults in South Los Angeles are two times less likely to eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day than those in West Los Angeles
  • 72% of the restaurants are fast food or limited service restaurants in South Los Angeles
  • 41% of the restaurants are fast food or limited service restaurants in West Los Angeles

Lack of fresh food is leading to obesity everywhere
South Los Angeles children are twice as likely to be obese as children in West Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, Los Angeles is not alone. More than 29 million Americans lack access to fresh food. That is the equivalent of the states of Illinois, Pennsylvania and Kansas combined. Imagine three states that completely lacked access to markets and healthy food.

Where do Food Deserts normally exist?
It is perhaps no surprise that such food deserts are usually found in impoverished areas, largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers. And so the cycle of deprivation continues. It’s not that people don’t want to eat healthy food; they just don’t have the opportunity to do so. Herbalife, for one, is working to fill the void.

What is Herbalife doing to end this epidemic?
It is no coincidence that there is a concentration of Herbalife Nutrition Clubs and members close to these food deserts, as people in these communities are desperately trying to find ways to improve their nutrition. Not surprisingly, in addition to lacking full-service grocery stores, these communities also lack health clubs and other private organizations designed to improve health.  Across the U.S., from Oklahoma City to Miami, Denver to Atlanta, we are seeing a clear correlation where the need for better nutritional choices is being satisfied with the presence of Herbalife within communities.

Independent Herbalife Members help their customers understand the importance of good nutrition, and give them access to Herbalife nutrition products, which in turn provide all the nutrients and key nutritional building blocks for a healthy active life in a way that is accessible and relatively inexpensive. Herbalife Nutrition Clubs are community hubs that are supportive and address a very real need in those communities that need it most. Herbalife, through our members and their clubs, provide camaraderie, support, and education on how to eat healthily – on a budget. And, through our nutrition products, Herbalife provides a solution that works for people who have few other alternatives.

Of course, in an ideal world, everyone would get all the nutrients their bodies need through balanced meals that include the right blend of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. But until that happens, Herbalife will be there to help and will continue to serve as an oasis in the food desert.