FORT WORTH, Texas - Willie Brown carefully guided his cart of groceries off the Trinity Metro Bus. The cart thumped on the ground, and he slowly pushed it across an empty parking lot toward home.
Thirty years ago, that empty parking lot would have been filled with shopping carts and families buying groceries. It would have been where Brown shopped. Now, the Stricks Food Store is empty. Its parking lot at East Jefferson and Evans avenues is used as a gathering place for people who use bus stop No. 5.
The building is a reminder of what the Hillside neighborhood used to be.
"This area is dying," Brown said as he looked around.
Brown has lived in the Hillside neighborhood - within Fort Worth's 76104 ZIP code - since 1964. The USDA identified the area as a food desert - meaning the community lacks grocery stores and farmers markets within a convenient distance. Food deserts are heavy on convenience stores that sell mostly processed foods high in calories and low in nutrients.
A study by UT Southwestern found that residents of the 76104 ZIP code have the lowest life expectancy in Texas at 66.7 years. Doctors and residents say the lack of affordable healthy food contributes to the area's poor health.
Most of the deaths in the 76104 ZIP code that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram examined from Tarrant County Medical Examiner's reports occurred in three neighborhoods east of Interstate 35W: Historic Southside, Hillside and Morningside, which are home to just over 13,500 people. The medical examiner's data does not include those who died in a doctor's care, so it provides a glimpse, but not the full picture, of causes of death in the ZIP code.
The No. 1 killer was heart disease, which is caused by a number of risk factors, including smoking, pollution, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, diet and stress.
The neighborhoods, up until the late 1990s, had at least five grocery stores by Brown's count. Now, there are none.
The lack of grocery stores means Brown has to travel up to an hour for food. He refuses to shop in the neighborhood's 11 corner stores. They don't have the healthy foods he and his family want.