With a portion of Douglas County and west Georgia being a food desert, the negative impacts can be disproportionately felt by specific groups of people.
Poverty can be a common denominator when determining food insecurity. For those who live in poverty, fresh and healthy foods, when available, can be more expensive than their less healthy counterparts.
The United States Department of Agriculture, using information last updated in 2015, tracks where food deserts are and are not with an interactive map called the “Food Access Research Atlas.”
This map, which provides information by census tracts, identifies areas in need not only by their accessibility to a supermarket, but by the income of the average resident.
This addition to the map is due to the fact that its creators feel that poverty plays a primary role in defining food deserts.
To be considered a food desert, a census tract has to be both low income and have low access to healthy foods.
Low income is defined as annual family income at or below 200% of the federal poverty threshold for family size. Low access is defined as being farther than a mile from a supermarket in an urban area or more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas.
A majority of Douglasville, north of Interstate 20, qualifies as a food desert. The northern section of Lithia Springs, as well as the area between Douglasville and Lithia Springs and a section of Winston are also considered food deserts.
The only areas of Villa Rica that are classified as a food desert are in the Carroll County portion of the city, with the Douglas County side not considered a food desert.
Places such as east Douglas County, south of Lithia Springs, are identified as low income but not having low access to foods and hence are not food deserts.
This contrasts with other areas in the county, such as areas south of Douglasville, that have low access, but are not low income that are also not considered food deserts.
A 2019 health needs assessment from Wellstar Health System shows that 16.40% of all people in the county fall below the federal poverty line, which is lower than Carroll, Dekalb, and Fulton counties, but higher than Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, and Paulding counties.
When looking at this distributed across racial demographics, the Hispanic population had the highest percentage of people falling under the poverty line, with nearly 30% of the population. The Black population followed next, with approximately 15% of that demographic falling under the line.
Approximately 43% of the population in Douglas County has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. This assessment only identified a portion of northeastern Douglas County as being located in a food desert.
Tanner Health System also conducted a Community Health Needs Assessment in 2019, covering Carroll, Haralson, and Heard counties.
Villa Rica, sitting within both Carroll County and Douglas County, had its own focus group, which also identified cost as a barrier to general good health. While access to health care was determined to be good, the focus group identified its expense and the lack of insurance as concerns.
General cost and income was listed as one barrier to good health, with not only the cost of health insurance, but also the ability to buy health foods as being hampered by income and expense.
The Wellstar Health System’s assessment reports that screening for food insecurity is appropriate and warranted, especially in environments when the patient population has a large percentage of low income individuals.
This screening can help to connect families to sustainable food access support, identify underlying barriers to health conditions, and help reduce the prevalence of food insecurity and its effects on the community.