Where you live can have a huge influence on your day-to-day decisions about what to eat. Over the years, researchers have studied the matter to better understand how our environment can both support and undermine our health and diet. One important finding has been that low-income communities and communities of color often have the fewest places to purchase healthy, affordable food.
As a response to this public health crisis, federal, state and local governments have sought to combat food deserts and food swamps (often one and the same) by starting programs like healthy food financing initiatives (HFFIs), which provide low-cost financing to grocery stores that want to invest in underserved communities. These programs increase access to — and build demand for — healthy food in communities with high rates of diet-related disease and food insecurity. They also provide more jobs in communities that often have high rates of unemployment.
For 30 years, Pittsburgh's Hill District lacked a supermarket, that is, until the opening of a Shop 'n' Save in 2013 through an HFFI program. A recently released study by the RAND Corporation has found that the opening of the new grocery store resulted in less food insecurity and fewer new cases of diet-related disease for community residents. Hill District residents have since experienced fewer new cases of high cholesterol, arthritis and diabetes over time when compared to a similar community that did not receive a supermarket. The supermarket community also experienced less food insecurity, lower SNAP participation and increasing resident incomes. (Since less than 1% of the community moved away from the neighborhood, these improvements can’t be linked to gentrification.)
This study provides strong evidence that introducing a new supermarket in a previously underserved community brings both health and economic gains for local residents. That news alone should encourage elected officials to take more action and double down on their investments to ensure that new and improved supermarkets -- and their corresponding health and economic benefits -- exist in every ZIP code nationwide. No one should have to wait 30 years for a grocery store, and every child should grow up in a community where affordable, healthy food is within reach.
The Food Trust, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is launching a national collaborative effort – the Center for Healthy Food Access – that will work to increase access to and demand for healthy foods and beverages in underserved urban and rural communities.
“Through our 25 years of working on these issues, we know that accessing healthy food is still a challenge, particularly for children and families in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and rural areas,” says Yael Lehmann, executive director of The Food Trust. “Now more than ever, it’s important for diverse stakeholders to come together to demonstrate our support for programs and policies that can make the healthy choice the easy choice in every neighborhood.”
Read the entire press release here.
Food drives are big during the winter months: Around the holidays, it has become a tradition to pitch in and help those in need. While these efforts are certainly important and impactful, food insecurity doesn’t go away come January.
More than 900,000 New Jersey residents rely on food banks to feed their families, and it’s estimated that nearly 10 percent of the state’s population lives in areas that lack ready access to stores that sell healthy, affordable foods.
The impact of hunger is exacerbated in low-income communities by the lack of access to stores that provide good-quality, healthy food like fresh produce. Residents living in these areas are forced to buy what’s available, not necessarily what’s healthy, negatively impacting their health and well-being.
Numerous studies show that obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases are disproportionately higher in neighborhoods where residents lack access to nutritious foods. And these areas are also cut off from the economic benefits that accompany anchor supermarkets: steady jobs, increased property values and additional retail investment.
While the need for more supermarkets in New Jersey is clear, New Jersey also has an estimated 5,600 corner stores and bodegas around the state, making small retailers an efficient and cost-effective infrastructure to increase fresh, nutritious food options.
The New Jersey Healthy Corner Store Initiative — a joint partnership of The Food Trust, American Heart Association and the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance — is beginning to make headway, using these existing stores to improve access to healthy food by working with corner-store owners to help them profitably stock, market and sell nutritious, affordable food items to their customers.
Through the initiative, community partners provide retailers the tools they need to dedicate more shelf space to fresh foods and place signs and labels around the store that help their customers recognize healthier choices. The program is helping turn these stores into greater community resources, yielding impressive results in both improving healthy food access and generating new local jobs.
Legislation is pending in Trenton — the Healthy Small Food Retailer Act (A4505/S3043) — that would create a state fund enabling the New Jersey Healthy Corner Store program to be expanded statewide. I encourage the Legislature and governor to act swiftly on this legislation.
All New Jerseyans deserve access to nutritious foods in their communities during the holidays and all throughout the year.
John Weidman is deputy executive director of The Food Trust.
The New York Times
Taped on the glass refrigerator doors were signs warning customers about the calories contained in the products inside. “Did you know it takes 65 minutes of dancing to work off a bottle of soda?” one said. The signs are part of the healthy corner store initiative sponsored by the Food Trust, a local nonprofit that works to promote nutritious food and coordinates closely with the city. (“Choose water!” urged another, handwritten sign.)
Many urban residents do their shopping in corner stores, and the Food Trust certifies stores, helping them find and sell healthier foods.
“We don’t do much with campaigns to decrease soda,” said John Weidman, the organization’s deputy executive director. “These guys have such small profit margins that you have to couch everything in terms of, ‘This will help your bottom line.’ ” In other words, the organization doesn’t urge stores to stop selling soda. Instead, he said, the goal is to nudge customers toward healthier options, like water and low-fat milk. “It’s mostly about getting them to try healthier alternatives,” he said.
Young Leaders for a Healthier Generation
GSK and The Philadelphia Foundation announced the award of a three-year, $5 million charitable grant to Get HYPE Philly!, a collective of 10 nonprofits headed by The Food Trust. Working together, the nonprofits will focus on enabling Philadelphia teens to eat healthy, exercise and build healthier communities. The grant is from a fund established by GSK in 2011 to benefit young people in the City of Philadelphia, and is administered by The Philadelphia Foundation.
For more information visit: gethypephilly.org
Celebrating Progress, Accelerating Change
Helping all children grow up at a healthy weight is an integral part of building a Culture of Health in every community across the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will commit $500 million over the next 10 years to expand efforts to ensure that all children in the United States—no matter who they are or where they live―can grow up at a healthy weight. Together we have been able to put childhood obesity on the map as an urgent, national priority. Now there are signs we’re turning the tides on childhood obesity rates in younger children. These signs of progress are happening in schools and communities across the nation.
Video features President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, former Let's Move Executive Director Sam Kass, Executive Director of The Food Trust Yael Lehmann, and others.
Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters:
Healthy food retailers—grocery stores; farmers’ markets; cooperatives; mobile markets; and other vendors of fresh, affordable, nutritious food—are critical components of healthy, thriving communities.
A new joint report by PolicyLink and The Food Trust, Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters, provides an up-to-date review of the research. Three years since our 2010 report, The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters, the large volume of new research shows that improving healthy food access in low-income communities and communities of color continues to be an urgent need.
Without access to healthy foods, a nutritious diet and good health are out of reach. And without grocery stores and other fresh food retailers, communities are also missing the commercial vitality that makes neighborhoods livable and helps local economies thrive.
Yael Lehmann, Executive Director of The Food Trust, received the Urban Leadership Award from The Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR). The award celebrates exemplary leaders in the effort to build resilient, food-secure and livable cities. The Penn IUR Urban Leadership Award is awarded annually to urban leaders who have made outstanding contributions to urban scholarship and to building cities that successfully respond to the challenges of the 21st Century.
Other awardees included: Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT and former Mayor of Barcelona, Spain and Ridwan Kamil, Founder and Principal of Urbane Indonesia.
May 22, 2013 -- Last week, both houses voted across party lines for a program that stands to make a huge difference in the health of people across the country. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees voted to include the creation of a Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) in their farm bill mark-ups. Their actions--coming after thousands of calls, emails, and letters from constituents demanding access to healthy food--made it clear that Congress is listening. They hear and understand that HFFI makes it possible to provide access to healthy foods in communities that have long gone without.