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Study: Middle Schoolers Reveal Severity of Food Insecurity in Brooklyn

Brownsville and Bed-Stuy students found that processed foods and sugary beverages are more accessible than fresh foods and water in low-income areas
Teens for Food Justice, BK Reader
Photo courtesy Teens for Food Justice

Students from the Brownsville Collaborative Middle School and The Urban Assembly Unison School in Bedford Stuyvesant presented on Saturday at Brooklyn Borough Hall their research on food insecurity in low-income neighborhoods.

They were joined by Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and representatives from the American Heart Association for the second annual Teens for Food Justice Leadership Conference.

Since February, the students have researched food availability in bodegas and grocery stores throughout the borough. The students presented their findings to the borough president and to the vice president of Health Strategies of the American Heart Association to inspire a larger discussion about strategies to address food deserts and the lack of access to affordable, healthy food in low-income areas.

"More than one million New Yorkers live in food desert communities, 25 percent of who are children," said Katherine Soll, Teens For Food Justice program manager. "It's no wonder New York City spends over $4 billion on healthcare related to poor diet and malnutrition."

The students discovered that stores in their areas sold mainly sugary drinks and offered few healthy beverage options. Many students had to search through the stores to even find water. 

Food was mostly prepackaged and processed, with few fresh items available; those were usually sold at a significantly higher price. Students also discovered that many stores were not necessarily promoting healthier food options; instead, they displayed beer and other alcoholic beverages prominently at the front of the store while food items were located far in the back.

A study conducted by Brownsville and Bed-Stuy reveals the lack of fresh foods and healthy beverages in neighborhood bodegas
BP Adams thanked the young researchers from Brownsville and Bed-Stuy for their findings. Photo courtesy Teens for Food Justice

"I am grateful to the students from Teens for Food Justice for delving into this issue, presenting their findings and helping lead the way to bring more fresh and healthy food to their communities," said Adams. "Food insecurity touches too many communities across Brooklyn. We see it all too plainly when far too few bodegas carry even a banana, let alone other fresh foods."

The Teens for Food Justice Leadership conference is an annual collaboration between the NYC American Heart Association and Teens for Food Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that New Yorkers have access to healthy, affordable food through youth-led initiatives.

The students, who began their research in early February, will continue their study, TFFJ official said. 

"Without adequate access to fresh produce, residents of low-income communities will continue to rely on unhealthy, processed foods," said Soll. "The student's presentations give an insight into this increasingly urgent issue."