Investing In More Than Just a Supermarket

(cross-posted from The Hill)

For those of us who have always had easy access to healthy food, a supermarket is probably just a place to buy groceries. But for the millions of Americans living in low-income neighborhoods marked by decades of disinvestment and unemployment, the opening of a local supermarket can revitalize their community — creating new jobs, attracting new businesses, and laying the groundwork for better health.

That is why programs like the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) are so vital. Since 2011, the national Healthy Food Financing Initiative has awarded over $100 million in grants to help bring small and independent grocery stores, farmers markets, cooperatives, and healthy food hubs to low-income neighborhoods — investments that have been a game-changer for the lives and livelihoods of people living in these communities. As the House and Senate continue to mark up their funding bills for fiscal year 2016, it’s imperative that this program receive the funding necessary to continue this work.

That access to supermarkets and other food retailers helps people live healthier lives is a given — more than 300 studies over the past 20 years have documented the link between neighborhood access to healthy food, improved eating habits, and long-term positive health outcomes.  These community-level changes will not happen overnight — as several studies have pointed out, significant changes in dietary intake and obesity can take months, if not years, to play out — but the simple truth underlying these programs remains the same: Without access to healthy food, any other efforts to reduce obesity will fail. With two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children ages 10 to 17 overweight or obese in America — and related health care costs exceeding $147 billion annually — we cannot afford to overlook this basic perquisite for health.