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Baltimore rebrands its food deserts: Now they're 'healthy food priority areas'

Call them “food deserts” no more. Areas of Baltimore where residents don't have ready access to healthy, affordable food are now to be known as “healthy food priority areas.”

While the new name might be much less evocative, Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that the new term is more accurate.

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“There has been an evolving conversation both in Baltimore and nationally,” she said. “ ‘Deserts’ implies there is no food, when actually there is an imbalance between healthy and unhealthy foods.”

A new study released by the city and researchers at the Johns Hopkins University concluded that 146,077 city residents live in such areas — 23.5 percent of the population. A total of 124,521 of them are African-American.

To be deemed a priority area, a neighborhood must rank poorly in a measure of food store quality, have a low median income, have more than 30 percent of households without cars and be more than a quarter-mile from a supermarket.

Officials promoted one success Wednesday: They say the opening of a new Save-A-Lot supermarket on East Monument Street has pulled 5,000 people out of a food desert since 2015.

Holly Freishtat, the city’s food policy director, said a new tax incentive helped draw the store to Baltimore.

“Policy has started to make a difference,” she said.

Officials plan to continue to looking for more ways to make healthy food more widely accessible. An eight-point plan includes working with corner stores and public markets, looking at transportation problems and listening to residents about what they want.

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