Friday, November 22, 2013

New Report: Access to Healthy Food & Why It Matters

PolicyLink and the Food Trust have released Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters: A Review of the Research - a report detailing the latest research about how access to healthy foods has improved in recent years, as well as the impact that limited access continues to have for both individuals and communities throughout the nation.

The report highlights three primary findings:
  • Accessing food remains a significant challenge for many families, particularly those living in low-income neighborhood, communities of color and rural areas. The report suggests that an estimated 25 to 30 million Americans – roughly 9 percent of the population – live in communities with limited or no access to healthy food options. In New York City, for example, one-third of predominantly black census tracts lack walking or subway access to healthy food retailers.
  • Living closer to healthy food retail is among the factors associated with better eating habits and decreased risk for obesity and diet-related diseases. The lack of access to healthy foods – combined with other obstacles, such as limited transportation – pose significant challenges for families and can lead to several negative outcomes, including poor health. According to the report, nearly half of black and Hispanic children are overweight or obese. Ensuring that families have access to healthy food options is essential to creating communities that promote healthy lifestyles.
  • Healthy food retail stimulates economic activity. Beyond ensuring that families have access to healthy food options, food retailers can have a major impact on the local economy. According to the report, it is estimated that 24 new jobs are created for every 10,000 square feet of retail space. Thus, new retail opportunities in low-income communities and communities of color can be a critical piece of a neighborhood's revitalization strategy. In addition, government food benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provide a further economic stimulus when spent at local retailers. It is estimated, for example, that ever $5 in new SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending at SNAP-accepting retail outlets.

Though there has been increased attention to the challenge of healthy food access in recent years, ensuring that communities have access to healthy food options remains a great challenge. The implementation of federal programs, such as the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, has stimulated both interest and action in communities throughout the country. However, increasing access to healthy foods remains a challenge that all communities – particularly those that are low-income – should continue to address.

Want to learn more? Check out the resources blow.
  • Check out the Investing in Community Change blog’s Healthy Food Access label (located on the right sidebar) to learn more about healthy food access, including reports, tools and funding opportunities.
  • Want to know where areas with limited access to healthy foods are located? Check out the USDA’s Food Access Research Map.

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