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Merrigan: Food deserts are real

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan

Kathleen Merrigan

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said today that she believes there are places where people do not have access to healthy food, even though the New York Times published a story this week questioning whether “food deserts” exist.

In a telephone call to reporters from Chicago, where she unveiled a regional food hub guide, Merrigan said that the food desert locator on the USDA website is “just a conversation starter.”

But she said she was going to “stand by” the concept of food deserts, noting there are case studies to prove that they exist.

But Merrigan also said the idea that eliminating food deserts would solve obesity is simplistic.

Obesity, she said, “is a tough, tough issue,” and said she learned when she was a professor at Tufts University, a leading research institution on nutrition, that it takes many strategies to address the problem.

Merrigan said she was distraught by the Times article, but hopes that it makes many different groups realize they need to take action to address obesity.