Cantrell said her only other option is a neighborhood store within walking distance that sells a hair-product-heavy mix of hair tonics, shampoos and some food at convenience store prices.
"The only vegetables they have are in cans," said Cantrell.
That's why Cantrell isn't surprised when she sees already chubby kids in her neighborhood eating snack cakes or drinking soda.
Maps raise question
That's also one of the reasons Cantrell said she and a dedicated group of neighbors have been trying to get a full-service grocery store to come to the neighborhood for at least five years. She also is a part of a Mana-Food Security Partner's community group working to bring stores to food deserts around the city.
In the United States, people tend to think about obesity as a personal failing or a character issue, a question of willpower, said David Schlundt, an associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University and one of the key researchers involved in gathering the Nashville Health Disparities Coalition data.
But it's not a coincidence that New York is America's thinnest city, based on average body mass index measurements, Schlundt said. The structure of New York City puts people out on the sidewalk and using public transit, because that's the best way to get around.
O'Hara started looking at the question of what impact life in a food desert has on weight after a Tennessee State University associate professor geographer, David Padgett, showed her a set of maps he created marking Nashville's grocery stores, fast food restaurants and households without cars.
Tying Nashville Together, a nonprofit, originally asked Padgett for help mapping Nashville's food deserts in 2005. O'Hara found conclusive links between body mass index measurements and income, but less strong ties between the location of one's home and obesity. Still, Padgett said her research is important.
"I'm sort of a scholar activist," Padgett said. "So I was very interested in finding out if there are any health implications to living in a food desert.
"If struggling with life in a food desert isn't just a question of convenience, that really makes a much stronger case for public intervention."