The reality of climate change is causing governments and countries all over the world to consider how they will steward the environment, create sustainability and manage energy resources. Much has been made about the advancements in renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal energy. Also we have advancements in clean coal technology that could reduce carbon footprints of coal production by 65%. President Obama has pushed for a Clean Power Plan with the EPA, forcing America to adjust to how we create and manage energy resources.
Why are Dialysis Centers popping up in urban areas like pawn shops and liquor stores? What is the driving factor for their emergence? It is the phenomenon called the “Food Desert”. A Food Desert is defined by the USDA “as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food where the more than 33% of the population in that area is more than one mile from a grocery store or large supermarket.” There are over 25 million Americans who reside in areas classified as “Food Deserts”. These communities also have a poverty rate of least 20 percent (or median family income is less than 80 percent of the statewide average). In Atlanta over half a million people reside in a “Food Desert”, the Old Fourth Ward an area home to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Historic site does not have a single grocery store at all. Meanwhile Atlanta is building new stadiums and completing new museums but have decided to ignore basic food needs like building more grocery stores. Why is this so critical? Well there is an inexorable link between poor health and lack of access to fresh food. A cadre of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and kidney disease are increasing rapidly in the same areas classified as “Food Deserts”. There is no random coincidence that we have seen the influx of kidney dialysis clinics and treatment centers popping up in “the hood”. Dialysis centers know they have built in customers because when you don’t have access to fresh food you’re going to settle for unhealthy food. Which will lead to a myriad of health issue one being diabetes.
In every food desert there are plenty of “hood corner stores” that mostly sell junk food, snacks, and alcohol and lottery tickets”. When Children get out of school they are stopping by these stores because of the limited food options and filling up on low to zero nutrition food. This lack of access to fresh food leads to an accelerated pace to getting diabetes, obesity and or kidney disease. As soon as children are old enough to ride the bus to school the dialysis business model can predict how many long term customers they will have based on the zip code in which that child lives in. Dialysis centers and food deserts are BFFs at the expense of our children and the greater overall health of the community. When you couple these health issues with high poverty rates and unemployment rates in these food desert areas you can logically draw the conclusion of the lack of healthcare or adequate insurance. People are dying from treatable diseases because they may not have the income or insurance. These problems are exacerbated by the inability to have access to a grocery store that has fresh food and vegetables. Some people may say well “why don’t people take public transportation to the nearest grocery store”? It is not that simple, I used to work in the Old Fourth Ward district in Atlanta and I rode MARTA and it can take 45 minutes to hours, one way to get to places by the time you do all the transfers. Once you get to a grocery store you can only carry so much stuff on a Bus or Train. I wish we were as thoughtful about placing grocery stores on the MARTA line as we are about getting people to sporting events on that same MARTA line. We are aware in most cases of how private prisons begin to forecast how many beds they will need to build based on 3rd grade reading scores. We realize that if we don’t address the need for education that more of our youth will fall through the cracks and end up in prison. In these same neighborhoods we also now must begin to realize the symbiotic relationship between food, health and life expectancy. Putting an end to food deserts by building more grocery stores, urban farms and community gardens can help sour the BFF relationship between dialysis centers and food deserts. It doesn’t make sense that we have food access problems when one-third of the food that is produced in the world is wasted. As we build sustainability we have to take in account all these factors in order for everyone to benefit, as we strive towards Dr. King’s Beloved Community model.