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.
Philadelphia, May 23, 2017– In its recently released budget, the Trump administration has proposed cutting $192 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program, which is responsible for putting food on the table of vulnerable populations across the country. More than half of program participants are children; among the remaining half are large numbers of seniors, the disabled, veterans and working people struggling with low wages. Approximately one in five Americans will be on SNAP at some point in their life.
These drastic cuts would have a negative impact on families and communities across the country. Without proper nutrition, not only will children’s health deteriorate over time, but their academic performance will suffer, as well. Parents will be at higher risk for diabetes, obesity and other diet-related diseases, and their health care costs could rise significantly. The cuts would have other negative economic consequences, too: notably, a detrimental impact on supermarkets, grocery stores and farmers markets in low-income communities, where dollars from SNAP are a critical component of retailers’ weekly sales and farmers’ livelihood.
While the President campaigned on a message of jobs and economic security for all, now in office he is proposing policy changes that will result in more hunger and fewer communities with access to healthy food. Many of those most affected would be working-class rural voters who make up his base of support.
The Food Trust will work at the federal level with partners across the country to urge members of Congress to block these cuts and ensure that SNAP continues to protect the most vulnerable among us.
—Yael Lehmann, Executive Director, The Food Trust
The Food Trust’s Center for Healthy Food Access is a national collaborative effort working to ensure that every child in the United States has access to nutritious, affordable food. For more information, visit centerforhealthyfoodaccess.org.
Visit The Food Trust's Press Room by clicking here.
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.
The American Journal of Public Health
Effects of Proximity to Supermarkets on a Randomized Trial Studying Interventions for Obesity
OBJECTIVES: To determine whether proximity to a supermarket modified the effects of an obesity intervention.
METHODS: The study examined 498 children aged 6 to 12 years with a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile participating in an obesity trial in Massachusetts in 2011 to 2013. The practice-based interventions included computerized clinician decision support plus family self-guided behavior change or health coaching. Outcomes were 1-year change in BMI z-score, sugar-sweetened beverage intake, and fruit and vegetable intake.
RESULTS: Living closer to a supermarket is associated with greater improvements in fruit and vegetable intake and weight status in an obesity intervention.
Read the full study abstract 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.
Brian Lang, director of The Food Trust's National Campaign for Healthy Food Access, recently had the opportunity to join a roundtable discussion with Mari Gallagher (Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group) and Helen Lee (MDRC) on the connection between healthy food access and health for The Wall Street Journal. Says Lang:
"For folks without a lot of time or money, it's easier to find a grape soda than a bunch of grapes. The 2 miles that a higher-income suburbanite might travel to access healthy food isn't the same as the 2 miles that a lower-income resident might travel."
Read more here.
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.
First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Philadelphia to discuss federal funding for a Healthy Food Financing Initiative which will increase the availability of affordable, healthy foods in underserved urban and rural communities, particularly through the development of grocery stores and other healthy food retailers.
"...And I have to finally thank a few others: the Food Trust. (Applause.) The Reinvestment Fund. (Applause.) And the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition. (Applause.) You all have done extraordinary and some could say revolutionary work here in this city. And as you all have said consistently, you couldn't do it without each other. That has been the resonating message. So you all should be very proud to be highlighted here today for the work that you've done. It's really groundbreaking, and hopefully will set the tone for what we can do throughout the country."
From Huffington Post
Access to healthy food can bring triple bottom-line benefits to communities -- better health, new jobs, and a revitalized economy. But nearly 30 million Americans still live in low-income areas with limited access to supermarkets. The problem is particularly acute in low-income communities of color.
From the Times-Picayune:
Over the past eight years, one question repeated all over town kept Circle Food Store owner Dwayne Boudreaux going in his fight to reopen the landmark 7th Ward grocery.
"They'd always ask me, 'When? When? When will Circle Foods open?" Boudreaux told a crowd gathered outside the store Friday.
"We weren't going to let anything get us down," he said.
[With help from the Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, a partnership of the City of New Orleans, HOPE Enterprises and The Food Trust], Boudreaux officially opened the doors of the store, surrounded by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, other city leaders, and bankers and developers who helped finance the $8 million renovation. A waiting line of customers, grocery carts in hand, snaked around the circular building.
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.
July 23, 2013 – In her remarks to the National Council of La Raza in New Orleans, First Lady Michelle Obama talked about the progress the country is making in addressing the childhood obesity issue and acknowledged The Food Trust's role in increasing access to healthy, affordable food:
"We are finally starting to see some results, as childhood obesity rates are beginning to drop in cities and states all across this country. We’re making progress, thanks to all of you.
"And while we still have a long way to go, the good news is that right now, we have everything we need to reclaim our children’s health – that is, if we’re willing to step up and continue to do our part in our own families and communities...
"And it’s about empowering families with the information and resources they need to make healthy choices for their kids...
"Major American businesses like Walmart and organizations like the Food Trust, which is working right here in New Orleans, are bringing fresh food into our communities. Restaurants are offering healthier menus. Mayors throughout the country are refurbishing parks and playgrounds. And we are bringing healthier breakfasts, lunches and vending machines into our school cafeterias."
From Remarks to National Council of La Raza
May 9, 2013 -- The Food Trust, along with partners Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the City of New Orleans, and Hope Enterprise Corporation, were on site for the groundbreaking of a new, healthy food hub in New Orleans. The ReFresh Project, which features Whole Foods Market as the redevelopment anchor, is located at Broad and Bienville streets.
The project is developed by Broad Community Connections, a non-profit organization working to revitalize Broad Street from Tulane Avenue to Bayou Road, and L+M Development Partners, a developer of affordable, mixed-income and market-rate housing.
Whole Foods will move into the space previously occupied by Robert's Fresh Market and Schwegmann's grocery, which has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina. Other tenants include Liberty's Kitchen, a non-profit that provides culinary training to at-risk youth and meals to public schools, and Tulane University's Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine, where residents, students and doctors will learn how to use healthy cooking to avoid food-related diseases. Indoor and outdoor community space for gardening, fitness and education classes will also be created.
Funding for the ReFresh Project came through several different outlets. The New Orleans Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, managed by The Food Trust and HOPE in partnership with the City, provided $1 million in financing to Broad Community Connections, with as much as $500,000 forgivable. The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority added $900,000 through its Commercial Corridor Revitalization program, with additional money coming from New Market Tax Credits, Goldman Sachs, Chase, the Foundation for Louisiana, Newman's Own Foundation and La Raza. In addition, the Low Income Investment Fund provided loan funds from the national Healthy Food Financing Initiative.
“Access to fresh foods and produce is vital to improving the health of our residents. The FFRI program is improving the quality of life for our residents and will make New Orleans a healthier city,” said City Health Commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo.
Whole Foods plans to open the Broad Street location by December 2013.
January 14, 2013 -- The post-Katrina flood swept into Circle Food 5 feet deep, and new owner Dwayne Boudreaux spent years lining up the $8 million needed to repair the store and reopen it.
"Basically, we're gonna try to bring back the things we had before,” Boudreaux said. “The fresh fruits and vegetables."
Frustrated by lack of progress in the obesity fight, one of the nation's richest health charities will pay to build better stores and buy greener groceries itself, if it has to.
The Colorado Health Foundation has set aside $7.1 million for a loan-and-grant fund aimed at grocery stores and retail developers that need a subsidy to supply more nutritious goods in "food deserts."
From the Cincinnati Enquirer
January 31, 2013 -- The effort to provide consistent sources of fresh fruit and vegetables to the residents of Avondale and other Cincinnati neighborhoods lacking grocery stores has received a substantial boost.
The Center for Closing the Health Gap received a $150,000, two-year grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation to support the Do Right! Healthy Corner Store Network Initiative. It is the first local foundation to award a grant to address food deserts in Cincinnati – the lack of a grocery store as a consistent source of fresh fruit and vegetables.