New Program Broadens Access to Healthy Foods

By , SparkPeople Blogger
An estimated 23.5 million Americans (including 6.5 million children) live in areas where it is difficult to find healthy, affordable foods.  Commonly referred to as "food deserts", residents might have to drive 10 miles or more to find stores with items they can afford.  Even then, these stores might not carry important items like fruits and vegetables.  Now a new program between major retailers and the Partnership for a Healthier America (started by Michelle Obama) aims to give these areas better access to foods that are a key part of a healthy diet. 

This program is part of the ongoing effort to reduce childhood obesity, by targeting areas where access seems to be a barrier to a healthy diet.  Many people in these areas turn to restaurants and convenience stores to get food for their families.  "The Department of Agriculture defines “food deserts” as low-income areas where more than 500 people or 33 percent of the population lives more than one mile from an affordable food store. In rural towns, the distance is 10 miles."  Wal-Mart is one store that has committed to help by stocking 1,000 of its locations with foods (like fruits and vegetables) that they typically wouldn't carry.  SuperValu is another store that has committed to opening 250 new Save-A-Lot stores in these areas over the next 5 years.  Participating stores would receive financial assistance from the federal government for their involvement.

I think programs like this are a good first step in battling obesity.  If people don't have access to healthy foods, how can they be expected to make positive changes in their diets?  But it definitely can't end there.  As I talked about in one of my blogs last week, easy access doesn't always equal better choices.  People need to be educated about how and why to incorporate healthy foods in their diets, and what kinds of alternatives they have if they can't afford/don't have access to things like fresh produce.  This could mean exploring options like canned fruits and vegetables, or even starting their own gardens.  You can provide all of the options in the world, but if people don't understand the value of a healthy diet, those options aren't going to make much of an impact.   

What do you think?  Do you think programs like this are a good first step for those with limited access to healthy foods?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


I live in Canada About 3/4 off the people buy healthy foods.Not all now how to cook from scratch.I cook all our food from scratch.I use the Canada food guide.We all so have a wellnes clinic were we can go to get a lot off information I can find all the fresh or frozen food I want. I can not under stand why you do not have it to. Report
Making the food available is a good start, but as you well know, it will take more than that to change habits.

I live in an area that has plenty of great food, but that doesn't mean I always eat well. I still need to know about variety and portion sizes, and I need the willpower to make good choices and to exercise too. Report
We have a Save A Lot store just a few blocks from where I live. I do live in a low income area and am trying to teach the locals about eating healthier. I have also helped some of them start continer gardens so they can grow some of thier own food. It doesn't get any fresher than that.

As far as this program goes, I'm not so sure about this financial assistance program though. If the produce is fresh, locally grown and good quality I might agree with government assistance. But if the produce is like what I find at my local SAL then I don't think there should be any assistance.

The produce at my local SAL is just a day or two from the compost pile. It doesn't do any good to sell the public, at a primium price, produce that you bought at a minimum price because it was about to go bad. It has little,if any, nutritional value and if it isn't used in a day or two it ends up in the garbage anyhow. If I find out my local SAL is getting government subsidies for the produce they sell, I'm going to have a fit!

Government programs can be beneficial, but only if they are regulated and not abused. I'm not going to get into a political discussion here, but the question was about my opinion and I gave it.

Makin healthy choices is just that, a choice. If you don't spend money on junk food, you can afford to buy healthier foods. If you cook at home instead of spending money on fast food, you can afford to buy better food. If you want to grow a tomato plant in a 4 gallon bucket, you can. There are hundreds of things you can do to save money and eat healthier, but like I said before, It's a choice. What will you choose. Report
Nutritious food can be provided, but if people don't know how to cook or eat it, it does no good. Many of these people are not willing to make changes. Report
I too think this is a good start and agree with many comments. A working for food program combined with attending courses on nutrition, how to budget, cooking from scratch, recipes. The big stores can do more - place together all the ingredients needed to make that week's featured soup or salad; offer deliveries; and food stamps should be restricted so that only healthier foods can be purchased.
The government could do much more - give financial help to local food producers like farmers markets and others in the community; but the big change is they need to get the food industry back under control. There is so much lobbying in general and for this huge group it is unreal how much is spent. Suppose that money went toward real food instead or healthier alternatives, or making it convienent but without all the artificial colors, flavors, and unecessary additives. Some may be helpful like preservatives and stabilizers however much of the ingredients isn't even food - although it may be derived from food. We would also then save on health care since many chronic diseases are tied to diet.
Progress is good but we have gone backward by not returning to the food basics from earlier in the US. Does everyone know that Canada, our north American neighbor, has a population & culture much like ours yet people there buy and consume 2-4 times more fresh produce? That's a commendable goal and speaks volumes about our priorities.
Mobile trucks selling or delivering healthy foods (and again holding mini -classes & demos how to prepare & use that seasons fruit or vegetable) is a great concept and we need to focus on meal programs that provide and teach good nutrition. Some schools are already doing it & I'd like to see that expanded by the US gov't as well. Report
Throughout my graduate career in health education a couple of things were paramount, the realization that knowledge does not necessarily lead to practice and that blaming the victim should be the last explanation for poorer health practices.I don't support being a food Nazi. I think what people put into their cart is their own business. I had an instructor who always maintained one person's junk is another's sustenance.

No matter how much of it is offered, many healthful foods are more expensive than conveniently packaged ones - and they may also trip the pleasure center of our brain with more power - how many of we foodies had fond dreams of nonfat milk vs a milk shake? Just saying that there is more to being a healthful consumer than knowing Wal*Mart has Michelle-veggies.

Having walked a mile in government subsidies food mode, I can say that not all of us food-stampers are junk gluttons. Yes folks, there are non-poor folks who fill their buggies ripe with Oreos and cheap chips. Instead of pointing fingers I think the powers that be should give EXTRA funds for buying fruits and vegetables, low fat protein and dairy, good fat foods, etc (akin to what WIC does) to support what we are all preaching about. For those of you who will bellyache about the cost, consider the savings in the sequelę of all those overweight kids that are the news of the much are health care costs these days?

I think offering a variety of foods is always better than not doing so. So I applaud the effort to make choice a real player in the plate filling game. But it is only a start. Report
I think it may be a good idea but 1) how is the government going to pay for this and 2) how are you going to get people who do NOT WANT to eat healthy to eat healthy? Kids do what parents do. If the parent is going to eat ice cream instead of watermelon then the kids most likely going to choose ice cream. Just because a healthier alternative is offered does not mean that's the choice that is going to be made...although I'm glad a better selection of fruits and vegetables are going to be available! Report
One more thought...just exactly how is the Dept of Ag/Partner for Health going to override the local ordinances where WalMart has been basically banned from selling foods? There are many areas where the WalMart SuperCenter, the one with all the food, is not allowed to build their store because they have groceries. Will the govt just come in and say now it is ok for WM to sell fresh veg/fruits, ignoring the local law and zoning, because govt is paying them to have it in the store? Report
I live close to an urban area with some poverty, yet we have a lot of good things going on to bring healthy choices to ALL. We have grocery stores on the outskirts of these areas that offer excellent produce selections as well as healthy, lean meats for relatively low cost. Government assistance programs include healthy foods on their list of approved things to purchase at these stores. We have a farmer's market in town and several produce stands scattered around the area, one right next to the Salvation Army store. All of this produce at a much better price than going to the store. We also have a food bank and homeless center that partners with local growers for fresh produce. I live in Indiana, so the urban areas around here aren't that far from productive farmland. We are blessed that way. However, I agree that education is just as important - if not more so - because many of these low-income families are buying starchy, sugary, processed foods instead of healthy, fresh foods, even when the latter is available at same cost. And while I think our school lunch programs are getting better, they need to pick up the pace. Most of the students in our local school district (I'm a teacher there) are on free lunch. What an impact could be made if we could provide them with fresher, healthier foods! Report
I watch people put lots of JUNK in their grocery carts, so I know it isn't necessary as the store has good stable foods is a person is willing to cook. So many people today want something "ready to eat" or to stick in the microwave and those items are a LOT more expense than "cooking from scratch." Report
I lived for years in a rural area. We had a 100 mile-round trip to the nearest town with a grocery store. Because the area was so remote, even the food there cost a lot more than I've paid when living in an urban area. This new initiative is a great idea!

It is an awesome idea! Report
Monday, I went to my local grocer to get milk and bread. I noticed that the store was excessively busy. I wondered to myself, "What is going on? Is the store having a giveaway that I was not aware of?" Then I noticed people with carts literally overflowing with sugary cereals, cookies, chips, soda, frozen pizzas, etc. I also noted that most of the carts had little fresh meats or fruits and veges. Instead, there were items like cold cuts and hotdogs. Then there were several little children running in and out of aisles and darting about. Suddenly, it dawned on me. It was the first of the month and as I was checking out, I noted that most of these shopperes were using government issued food cards. I know we don't want "big brother" telling us what we can eat... but... if big brother is paying for it, there should be some restraints on the type of foods allowed. Even the WIC program limits purchases to real fruit juice and healthy cereal options. Some form of nutrition education should accompany the distribution of government sponsored food programs to improve the quality of food choices. During my 25+ years as a medical professional, I cared for many children and it was not uncommon to see obese children accompanied by obese parents. Sure, allow people to make there own choices, but, educate them on healthy alternatives. The government provides a payment source so that low-income families can opt to make unhealthy food choices and then later, the government provides medical care when those unhealthy choices lead to diabetes and other health problems resulting from unhealthy choices. The cycle has to end somewhere so I am all for tne "Partnership for a Healthier America" program. Report
I was so happy to go to Wal-Mart yesterday and see fresh produce! The Wal-Mart here is using a local produce company to stock their little fresh fruit & veggie island. I got the best strawberries for $1.98! For a graduate student living off of loans this was a major boon! Thank you new program!

As for the people in the food deserts I agree that education is extremely important. I work with youth in Baltimore and some of these kids had never had a "real" peach! I couldn't believe it. But if it's not a possibility or priority for survival their parents stick to whatever is cheapest and will fill their bellies. A great book to read if you are interested in this topic is "A Framework For Poverty" by Ruby Payne. It explains how people in poverty think and make their choices about what to do with their money.

Also I grew up in a middle class family and was never taught proper nutrition. I'm learning now thanks to Spark People! I've never had so many fruits or veggies in my life! :) Report
It's not just families in rural areas that may have trouble accessing healthy foods. I work with people who live in the city and don't have cars. Accessing a full service supermarket rather than just a convenience store for many of these people involve riding multiple busses. I can't imagine having to haul groceries to feed a family home on the bus especially if it involves towing several youngsters along for the fun. These are often the same people trying to make a living on a job (or multiple jobs) that pay little over minium wage and cobbling what's left after bills get paid with food stamps to make a food budget. I think making healthy eating a priority in the midst of a lifestyle like that would take a backseat to merely surviving. Report
If people live to far away from food, maybe the choice they need to make is to MOVE. Why should stores risk losing money to stock food that won't be purchased. Our local convenience stores started stocking fruits, at the end of the week, they were just throwing them away - no one buys them. If I lived to far from FRESH fruit and veggies, by choice, I would be sure to stock up on frozen and canned to insure I was getting what I need. Report
I live in a rural area. It is over 10 miles to the nearest grocery store. My husband works hard. But our budget only allows $75 a week for groceries for our family with one pre-teen, and two teenagers. Buying healthy food, (fruits and veggies) is really hard on this budget. But we manage. We don't eat junk food, we can't afford it. It is a commitment to budgeting and healthy eating. Most people don't know how to budget. So...I agree with all the previous posts that EDUCATION is the key. If people don't know why they need the fruits and veggies, and how to cook them, why would they want to change! There needs to be more incentive to eating healthy. Report
Lots of great comments - I especially agree with supporting the existing local food providers rather than subsidize the big box stores. That will truly put more back into the local areas. Education, critical. Plant a garden - terrific idea, but the garden must be maintained, which requires more education. Not having a stove or other cooking equipment! Yikes, I sure lead a sheltered life. So many issues and who is going to provide the answers? the government - not the right answers! This is the kind of national problem that needs to be reduced to a local problem that a grassroots movement would best service. The question is how do we as individuals (who have the time and the wherewithal) get out into our communities or rural areas and make a difference? I would love to help people learn to garden and learn how to cook, preserve and otherwise put away the extras. Where do we start? How do we make connections with those who want to learn about eating more healthily? The local food bank? Any other suggestions? Report
Okay, I have a mother who live in a rural area and I have a home in a rural area. Still having to drive 10 min to get to a normal grocery or 30 to a walmart, we manage to get fruits and veggies. It is education and many overweight kids do you watch filling arms with junk food or drink bottles and going to the cart to put in in being pushed by an equally over weight parent. I don't agree my tax money should be subsidizing stores to carry what they will make money selling...unless they are selling it at cost (doubt it!) We do not need a better program we need a nation of people to make better choices! Teach the kids in school is good but if it is not practiced at home it does not work anyway. It is good to see food chains offering healthy alternative to kids such as fruit over fries and milk over soda... choices... where the key lies! Report
How about lowering the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables....we're not poor by American standards but the cost of fresh foods is out of this world! There are things I would love to buy but it's simply not in the budget. I drive 15 miles to shop at Aldi Grocery Store so I can give my family more affordable fresh while having more stores offer fresh foods, the price needs to come down... Report
I grew up poor and homeless, my mothers Mantra for my brother and I was Clean, Honest and educated. She worked 2 jobs and kept us clean. She never drank or smoked cigarettes. Candy and junk food were never around thank goodness in my youth. Neither was television or food stamps.
In our city there is a soup kitchen feeding many people. People stand outside smoking and talking on cell phones handed out for free. If they dont need to work and are getting fed with no ambition to better themselves they will do nothing for themselves. We should require them to do something, they should be required to do something before thand outs are given out.
At the end of many days food is given to food pantrys to be given out for free. The birthday cakes, the expensive cookies full of white flour and sugar.
I know this to be true a member of my family has gone to these places to find food because of layoffs and there is a wasteland of calories and junk food ahead in there. Precious little to enable them to get healthy food there.
EDUCATION is the key and so is a work ethic. We had workfare and it worked. We gave out commodities of good food and it worked.
We give out credit cards instead of food stamps and yet somehow many are still able to pay for the junkfood with cash after the other boxes of convenience foods are purchased.I see no end to the hand outs in the near future for this generation. EDUCATING the children to understand nutrition and health is the only way to go in my opinion. We did it with cigarettes and can do better with drugs and liquor but overeating junk food is also a major health concern there is simply way too much of it. Report
I firmly believe that it's all about access. Not just access to the food, but to kitchens and recipes that make food preparation easy. Many people in food deserts don't just lack a grocery store, they're lacking a full stove, quality cookware, and recipes. I don't think that people need to be told why they have to eat their vegetables. It's just that the modern food industry wiped out "old fashioned home cooking," so many people just don't know how to cook a fresh vegetable or just think they're disgusting. All the community gardens in the world don't do a darn thing if you're working with people who don't have a kitchen or a taste for fresh food. Access to tools and flavorful meal ideas will change things. Report
I am in no way, shape or form categorizing everyone who receives food stamps, but that is another program that if divided up properly, 9ie. x amount of dollars towards each food group) would benefit so many who receive them to get the nutritional balanced diets they need. I've been there, done that with food stamps and I wish I would have had a nutritionist help me get the best bang for the amount I received. Just saying.... Report
Access is a good first step. Education is next. I think people do better when they know better Report
Don't agree with "the first step" idea. A Quality Education always wins. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. The people have to WANT to be healthy first. Just look at where all these sparkers came from....unhealthy lifestyle/eating an healthy lifestyle/eating habits. Voila! Do we not already provide free breakfast and free lunch to low income area school children everywhere, not just low income areas? I challenge you to visit one of those schools and check out the garbage can after the meals are served and see how much is thrown away, every day.
As for the Dept. of Ag subsidizing WalMart and the false hope that that will really make a difference in the obesity problems of our children-. bad idea .That's the last thing we need= Another govt. program,= another subsidy(using your tax dollars). Why WalMart? Why not the existing urban neighborhood food service? That would at least give a little real help to the shopkeepers. Then there is the subject of rurals not living within 10 miles of affordable food. Guess it's been a while since you took a drive through the country. There are many places where it is 10+ miles before you see another house, let alone a place to shop! Your biggest worry is finding a gas station before you hit empty, not a store for an apple. 'nuf said. Report
I believe that any step in the right direction is good. Report
Great idea...But some people don't want the trouble of planting or buying produce
for their family..they like the easy way out...lots of fast food laden with salt....And a lot of macaroni pie!! Report
I'm sick of people gripping, because families can't afford food. You act like they are all free loaders. Many are hard working Americans who make to much to get help, but not enough for decent food or health care. How many have lost jobs due to no fault of their own. It's great that these stores are willing to carry more fruit and vegetables, but what good are they if they are not handled or stored properly or cost so much no one can afford to buy them. The more programs say they will help, the higher the price goes. As far as growing your own, undoubtedly you have never bought seed or fertilizer. A bag of fertilizer we were paying 5.00 for last year is 40.00 this year. In my state we are in severe drought conditions, meaning you have to water with city water that costs an arm and a leg and then the chemicals kill the plants. So get real, this isn't an economical solution either. Report
just more tax dollars -- have them work on an urban garden and grow their own. Report
Education is the key! My local Wal-Mart has an excellent produce section with very affordable prices. Yet only a few aisles away are shelves of more unhealthy foods such as snack foods, candy, soda, sugary cereals etc. It takes effort and a better understanding of the nutritional values of different foods to encourage people to spend their food dollars wisely. I applaud any efforts made by celebrities and influential people to place a focus on the problems associated with obesity and poor food choices. There is still a long way to go! Report
It's a good start, and I applaud the First Lady's program, but...when was the last time anyone saw a Walmart or Save-a-Lot in an urban area? (Not that I particularly want them there, because that puts the Mom & Pops out of business, hurting the local economy.) Support for existing Mom & Pops establishments in urban areas is desperately needed. (ETA: I live in a major city that has several food deserts. There are no Walmarts or Save-a-Lots in downtown Los Angeles. It's all Mom & Pops stores.) Report
Access to healthy, affordable food is important, but education is more so.
Here's an example:
Where I live, fresh apples cost about $1 for two. Suppose Mom buys apples and, hands one to each of her small children. Each child nibbles off ten cents worth (because apples are harder to eat than most snacks) and 80% of her apple budget goes into the trash. If Mom has been shown how to cut the apple into 8 slices with a knife or apple gadget, each child would eat 2 pieces, Mom could eat 4, and 95% of the nutrition would be beneficial. I work at a food pantry, and see daily how lack of education is contributing to unhealthy families. (I'm the crazy lady showing people how to cut apples!) (And telling them how to cook beans and rice!) Report
I like this idea. I also like the idea of mobile store where trucks selling healthy essentials travel to designated locations to serve communities, like mobile libraries and health centers do. This is far less expensive than investing in permanent buildings and can serve many people in different locations . And what about a door to door delivery service, we can subscribe for a box of vegetables and fruit, whatever is in season, it is delivered to our door, sizes fit family sizes. There is the $35 box, the $50 box, etc... When I was a child the fish truck came buy our street, women didn't have cars in those days so there was a thriving delivery system. Bread, milk, delivered daily. And i shop online for my groceries, it is cheaper and quicker than doing it myself. People without internet access coukd get their staples by phoning or posting in a list or having a standing order to suit their family size. Room for a business's here! Report
I would like to see more affordable grocery stores popping up around college campuses as well. Even if it's an affluent neighborhood, if there are college kids around, there is definitely going to be a need for affordable groceries! The place where I'm going to school in the Fall has plenty of access to healthy food, but most students aren't really on a Central Market/Whole Foods budget... Report
Great idea
I never understand why people won't spend £1 on fruit / veg but would spend the same on a tiny burger (which never fills you for long)
It's more about education and having people who can cook for themselves Report
I work in the public schools with teens with learning disabilities. I believe poor nutrition choices impact especially the very kids that are already at disadvantage in school. All my tutoring does little to help students having only french fries and an energy drink for lunch every day. Practical, applicable education about the vital importance of a healthy diet is needed for the students, their parents, and the voting community. Report
Great idea! Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.