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South LA Food Desert


Mary Lee close-up

MARY LEE, Associate Director, PolicyLink


In South Los Angeles, food deserts are manifested in the typical manner: mainstream grocery stores are rare, and when they are present, the quality of the food is poor and the prices high. What sets South Los Angeles apart from other urban food deserts is its size. This community is home to roughly 800,000 people, and spans 60 square miles depending on how the boundaries are drawn. South L.A. is truly a federation of smaller communities. Yet each one is overrun with liquor stores and other small “corner stores”, at times referred to as convenience stores. Few of these stores sell fresh food at all; if they do have fresh items, the selection is limited and the items are overpriced and inferior. Liquor is the dominant product in most of the stores, creating another set of public health concerns related to substance abuse and addiction.

Compounding the lack of healthy food in South Los Angeles is the saturation of unhealthy food in every part of the community. Commercial corridors throughout South L.A are crowded with fast food. In other words, unhealthy food choices dominate the landscape – they are cheap and easily available, as is liquor. On the other hand, healthy food is hard to find, substandard and expensive. Residents of South L.A are paying for bad food policy with their health.  


Have a look at the 2007 Los Angeles County Health Survey:

  • 1 in 2 adults in Los Angeles County are either overweight or obese
  • Latinos (29%), African Americans (29%), Pacific Islanders (*27%), and American Indian & White/American Indian (*19%) experience disproportionately high rates of obesity in Los Angeles County
  • And, drum roll, please: South LA wins the dubious prize for the highest rate of childhood obesity (29%) and adult obesity (30%) in Los Angeles County.
*Statistically unstable due to low population numbers


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