TORONTO – Toronto Public Health has identified areas where unhealthy food options outnumber the healthy ones, and determined these “food swamps” are becoming more widespread.
Using the Modified Retail Food Environment Index (MRFEI), a score was assigned to a geographic area by dividing healthy food outlets to the total number of food outlets.
“We looked at healthier food access and all the food stores available and we created what is called the modified retail index and that’s basically a measure of healthy food and all food,” said Barbara Emanuel, manager of Toronto Food Strategy.
“The term ‘food swamps’ has evolved where having to access to … junk food or unhealthy food is much easier than healthier options.”
According to Emanuel, grocery stores, supermarkets and butchers fall under the blanket of healthy food in the index.
“We were more inclusive than exclusive and of course you can get unhealthy food at those places. Healthy is where there is a broad availability to produce and healthier food options,” Emanuel said.
“We are trying to get more refined definition, but at this stage we were more inclusive than exclusive.”
Emanuel said Toronto has a problem with access to healthy food.
“What we really need to do … is to make the healthier choice the easier choice and so that geographic access leads to healthier options is one piece of the puzzle,” Emanuel said.
“Having the food swamps more prevalent in all neighbourhoods in the city – it’s not a low income thing – it’s all over the city, it’s a much bigger problem in Toronto.”
The Toronto Food Strategy has initiatives in place to create more access to healthy food, one being the mobile food market.
“It’s basically a store on wheels and it brings fresh produce to low-income communities that are not well served but supermarkets and where people have low income and where people are not so well served by public transit,” Emanuel said.
“Where physical infrastructure isn’t working, we are doing it in a mobile way.”
With Files from Mark McAllister