07/09/2010 12:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Chicago Food Deserts: Drugstores Adding Fresh Produce

CVS and Walgreens are increasing their stocks of fresh produce in the vast areas of Chicago with no grocery stores.

Fruits, vegetables, prepared meals, frozen meats and fish, and household staples will be among the foodstuffs added at the drugstores, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

The changes will primarily take place in areas described as "food deserts," where the nearest fresh fruit and vegetables may be miles away. According to an NBC report (scroll down to watch), almost 600,000 Chicagoans live in a food desert.

Residents of these areas, many of whom are lower-income people with limited means of transportation, are left with few options for food: take a long bus trip to the nearest grocery store, and bring back only what you can carry; or settle for fast-food meals or the processed foods available at the corner store.

And living in a food desert, not surprisingly, has dire health consequences, researcher Mari Gallagher told NBC. People living in food deserts "are more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity," Gallagher said.

The drugstores are out to change that. CVS is doubling the amount of nonperishable food items it carries, including prepared products like Hamburger Helper and basics like honey and vinegar.

Walgreens will be selling vastly more perishables, according to the Sun-Times:

Deerfield-based Walgreen has expanded by 150 square feet its space in two Chicago stores selling fresh fruits, vegetables, frozen meats and fish, and dinner ingredients such as pasta, rice, beans, eggs, cheese, milk and bread. The items will include onions, potatoes and peppers in an expanded food center of the stores.

Walgreen said it will continue adding fresh food options -- 750 new items per store -- to four more of its Chicago stores in the next few weeks, and to another four stores by the end of August. Walgreen declined to identify the locations of the four stores that will get expanded food sections by fall.

And NBC Chicago reports that the internet grocer Peapod is teaming up with schools and nonprofit agencies to deliver purchased groceries straight to the consumer.

Coupled with the forthcoming Super Wal-Mart in Pullman Park, this marks the beginning of a major private-sector effort to address the food desert problem on the South Side.

Watch NBC Chicago's coverage of the initiative:

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