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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Yale: Online Grocery Shopping Leaves ‘Food Deserts’ Behind

There’s a new path out of the “food desert,” and it’s as close as the nearest Internet connection.

A Yale University analysis found that most people in “food deserts” in eight states would increase their access to healthy, nutritious food if they purchase groceries online and had the food delivered as part of the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The analysis showed that online grocery delivery systems already cover about 90 percent of food deserts — places where access to healthy food is limited — in the eight states: Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

“If you live in a food desert, online grocery delivery really stands out as way to get healthy food that potentially can save your life,” said Dr. Eric Brandt, a postdoctoral research fellow in the National Clinician Scholars Program at Yale and lead author of a study published online Dec. 2 in JAMA Network Open.

Earlier this year, SNAP began a pilot program in which clients had the option of buying food via online grocery delivery services. The program was established by the 2014 Farm Bill; it may be considered for national implementation after the pilot ends in 2021.

Dr. Brandt’s inspiration for the study was a visit to an urban, East Coast neighborhood served only by small convenience stores. “I thought, ‘One of the grocery store chains must deliver here — wouldn’t that be a better option than trying to build a new brick-and-mortar store nearby or change the way local bodegas are run?’”

Dr. Joseph Ross, professor of medicine and public health at Yale, is senior author of the study.

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