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Tuesday, September 15, 1998 Published at 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK


War against food deserts heats up

Manchester's Moss Side and other areas suffer from "food deserts"

The poor often pay more for basic food than the wealthy because the shops in their area are more expensive or non-existent, according to the Department of Health.

The government is planning to tackle the problem of "food deserts" by organising meetings with small and big food stores.

The Shopping Desert Action Team was announced on Tuesday and forms part of the New Deal for Communities.

The project, which is included in the Social Exclusion Unit's Bringing Britain Together report, will get £800m over the next three years.

Health minister Tessa Jowell said tackling health inequalities required "joined up solutions from joined up government".

This meant health officials had to work with business and other agencies to reduce health problems.

Limited range of food

She said some of Britain's poorest areas had no food shops or only small shops which offered a limited range of food at a higher price than big supermarkets.

[ image: People on deprived estates often live far from a supermarket]
People on deprived estates often live far from a supermarket
"In other words," she said, "the poorer you are the more you pay and the less you get for your money."

This led to differences in diet which could affect health.

Researchers have found that people on low incomes eat the least amount of fruit and vegetables.

Households which earn less than £150 a week eat three times as much white bread as those on more than £595 a week.

They also eat less low fat food and fibre and drink more full fat milk.

Working class women are more likely to be obese than those in the middle or upper classes.

It has been reported that the government may be considering plans to encourage supermarkets to open satellites on estates with few or no food shops and offer cut-price food to the poor.

Health hazard

Health Secretary Frank Dobson said food deserts were just one of a number of health problems facing the unemployed and low waged.

In a speech to the conference of the Chartered Institute for Environment Health, he said low wages were a "health hazard" and unemployment was a major risk to health.

Mr Dobson said a middle-aged man who lost his job was twice as likely to die in the following five years as an employed man.

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