Broad Shoulders Update

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Archive for the ‘healthy food access’ tag

Weight of the Nation Conference

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Over the past two days in the nation’s capital, a powerful convergence of leaders came together to ponder the serious issue of obesity and its physical, social, and economic consequences.

At the Weight of the Nation conference, convened by the CDC, there was broad participation by local, state, and national researchers, policymakers, practitioners, advocates, academics and others seeking effective solutions. The big news to come of the conference so far was the startling study finding that obesity is costing us $147 billion in health-care costsone in every ten dollars spent on health-care nationwide.

While it was exciting and encouraging to have champions such as Bill Clinton, Senator Harkin, and Health Sec. Kathleen Sebelius offer powerful declarations of support, I am still worried. Worried that this battle will take a very long time. Worried that many Americans still look at individual behavior as the primary place for change rather than exploring the harmful effects of place on the individual and family’s range of choices.  (Note the opening photo of an overweight person in the chair as opposed to the large number of fast food restaurants and unsafe place to play).

We are learning a lot at the conference. For example, studies showing that increased obesity is tied to cheap, easy availability of unhealthy, tasty foods. We are learning what’s working in other countries, such as in Amsterdam, with all their cycling and walking and high parking rates, there is still an obesity problem. We are hearing from economists that how we frame obesity intervention matters.

For example, polls taken in NY showed public suppport for having government involved in creating healthier policies to reduce obesity. But this support significantly declined when asked if they support taxes to make the changes happen. So there is still more to learn, more smart folks to talk to, more business cards to collect, more research to collect and evaluate.

But the real test is when we all return home, what do we do differently? What commitments will be made within our organizations and networks? How do we leverage and maximize this important moment to stay the course over the long haul to make the needed policy changes that can be sustained? How do we strengthen communities and families without blame and with resources? So these are the questions I will continue to ponder in the remaining half day of this amazing conference.

Mildred Thompson is the Director of the PolicyLink Center for Health and Place and the Deputy Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity.

Written by Mildred Thompson

July 28th, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Statements on New USDA Food Desert Study

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The USDA released a much-anticipated study of food deserts today. The full study can be found here. Below are statements from PolicyLink and The Food Trust about the study.

Statement from PolicyLink President Judith Bell

“The new USDA food desert report provides yet another confirmation that access to healthy food is a significant problem for millions of Americans. The report shows that about one in every 13 Americans – 23.5 million people — live in low-income communities that are more than a mile from the nearest large grocery store.

As more than 70 studies have shown during the past decade, the lack of access to healthy food is a real challenge in many low-income urban communities, rural communities, and communities of color. This is a public health issue, plain and simple. As we demonstrated in the 2008 report, Designed for Disease: The Link Between Local Food Environments and Obesity and Diabetes, people living in neighborhoods crowded with fast-food and convenience stores but relatively few grocery or produce outlets have a significantly higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes. (The report was prepared by PolicyLink in partnership with the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy).  Other studies demonstrate that in addition to providing access to healthy foods, supermarkets and large grocery stores are important neighborhood economic engines, bringing jobs and revitalization.

This USDA report adds to the growing body of research on the ways that where you live affects your health. Now is the time to implement proven, impactful policies to address America’s food desert crisis.”

Statement from John Weidman, Deputy Executive Director, The Food Trust

“Improving access to grocery stores in both urban and rural communities must be part of our national strategy to improve children’s health and prevent obesity and diabetes.  The Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative has demonstrated that supermarkets can thrive in food deserts and offers a strong model for solving this problem nationally.   Expanding this program is one of the Top Ten recommendations of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission To Build a Healthier America.”

Fresh-Food Financing in the NYT!

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Excellent piece today in the Times’ business section about the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative…and the effort to replicate it in New York.

 The ShopRite owner, Jeffrey Brown, a fourth-generation grocer, said it would not have made economic sense to open the $14.5 million store, which is at 52nd Street and Parkside Avenue, if not for a Pennsylvania grant and revolving-loan program aimed at improving access to nutritious food in places with few, if any, good stores to choose from.

“In neighborhoods like this, people have less money and the first thing they cut out are all the high-margin items,” said Mr. Brown, citing prepared foods and fancy breads as examples. Costs, like extra security, tend to be higher in poorer neighborhoods, he said.

Through the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, Mr. Brown, who owns 10 other supermarkets in the Philadelphia area, got a $1 million grant and $7 million in federal New Markets tax credits, which are aimed at stimulating investment in low-income communities. Several customers said the prices at Mr. Brown’s store were fairer than what they had been used to.

Inspired by Pennsylvania’s example, New York City officials have developed an initiative of their own to bring new neighborhood markets selling fresh food to areas of the city where they say the need is greatest.

PolicyLink, The Reinvestment Fund and The Food Trust are also working to bring this idea national. Check out a great two-page primer on the federal possibilities here.

Did you miss these? (January 10,2009)

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A recap of this week’s equity news

Nutrition grant will refresh local ‘food deserts’,” - The Courier-Journal
Grant to boost nutrition at two corner stores

They’re called “food deserts” — poor, urban neighborhoods where residents lack cars to drive to distant supermarkets, prompting many to rely on nearby fast food or convenience-store fare.

Now, after months of delays, a project is about to bring healthful food to two such “deserts” in Louisville by helping two corner stores in disadvantaged neighborhoods begin selling fresh fruits and vegetables.

How Obama can partner with philanthropy,” - San Francisco Chronicle
With violence in the Mideast, the spreading economic crisis, the tragedy in Mumbai and the risk of state failure in troubled regions, President-elect Barack Obama has had a glimpse of the in-box that awaits him. Already on his checklist had been the problems of new poverty at home; uneven access to health care and quality education; the climate crisis; and the need for post-war reconciliation and reconstruction abroad.

Yet the president-elect was quick to acknowledge on election night that, “government can’t solve every problem.” He will need to tap all available sources of innovation, including from the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. In the case of the social sector, its most important asset may be its independence, not only from governments but from the snap judgments of markets or electoral politics, influenced by the 24-hour news cycle. In a world of complex problems, the social sector - philanthropy and those it supports - may be the only sector able to take risks, withstand criticism and make long-term investments in the public interest.

A Pitch for Mass Transit,” - New York Times

Unlike President Bush, Barack Obama is going to enter office with a clear appreciation of the urgent problems of climate change and America’s growing dependency on foreign oil — and a strong commitment to address both.

One way he can do this is to give mass transit — trains, buses, commuter rails — the priority it deserves and the full financial and technological help it needs and has long been denied.