Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence

  Cartographies of Salt: Sodium, Healthy Eating and the Built Environment


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The research and publication of this study were funded by the Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence (PWHCE). The PWHCE is financially supported by the Centre of Excellence for Women's Health Program, Bureau of Women's Health and Gender Analysis, Health Canada. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the PWHCE or the official policy of Health Canada.

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Y. Hanson, R. Stout


A webinar was held on Thursday 31st January, 2013. Presention was by PWHCE and researcher, Yvonne Hanson.

Audio recording of this webinar can be found by clicking on the following link: Webinar Recording.

Executive Summary

In 2010-2011, Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence explored the impact of food insecurity on women’s health in three geographical locations (urban core, rural, remote) in Saskatchewan. PWHCE’s report detailed that food insecurity frequently involved the over-consumption of packaged, processed and high-sodium foods, such as wieners, pasta sauces and fast foods due, in large part, to the distant location of fresh food outlets. That study demonstrated that people in urban core neighbourhoods are frustrated by the lack of affordable and available fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed protein sources (such as fresh meat cuts and fish) and dairy products made available to them in their built and social environments.

The effects of poor nutrition on health outcomes are well documented. Adequate nutrition that fulfills Canada’s Food Guide notes that eating 5-7 fresh fruits and vegetables, coupled with physical exercise, is necessary in helping to prevent obesity, heart disease and diabetes. When low-income residents live in urban neighbourhoods where fresh foods are difficult to obtain or afford, their physical environment has been coined as a ‘food desert’. Food deserts exist, in part, as a result of policies where low income neighbourhoods are seen as less optimal locations for large food stores to gain profits given the lack of spending power of local customers.

This study explores four food deserts in Saskatoon and Winnipeg and combines the qualitative interviews with women who live within them with maps and charts, to add visual context to their stories. The study further aimed to identify how social and physical determinants played a factor in the food choices women made and whether consuming high amounts of sodium resulted. This mixed-methods approach reveals that women courageously attempt to feed themselves and their households amid barriers inherent in poorly supported neighbourhoods. Given the immense attention to nutritional standards and emphasis on “eating right” it appears paradoxical to acknowledge that neighbourhoods in Canada can ever be described as food deserts.

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