As a nation that is several decades into an obesity epidemic that has brought far-reaching and negative consequences, we are waking up to the fact that the items we select at the supermarket will go a long way towards determining the quality and length of our lives.
Unfortunately, according to the Harvard University Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, the Garden State does not live up to is name for many, with 340,000 New Jersey residents living in “food deserts.”
Though the knowledge of how to eat better is becoming more universal, access to healthy food is not distributed evenly. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly one in 10 Americans — lack adequate access to a nearby supermarket. In a study cited by the Food Trust, a non-profit that advocates for better access to healthy food:
only 8 percent of African-Americans lived in a census tract with a supermarket, as opposed to 31 percent of whites. Such disparities have measurable effects on people’s health.
Opening a supermarket increases the consumption of produce by 32 percent for African-Americans, the Food Trust found. It is a simple matter of if you build it, people will come.
If we don’t start attacking this problem now, it will cost lives and livelihoods. Children will grow up less healthy, with lower quality of life, more healthcare-related expenses and be less equipped to reach their full life potential.
In urban areas across the country, neighborhoods that were traditionally disadvantaged economically are seeing new growth and investment. Just as residential builders often include schools in redevelopment plans to account for the new families who will move in, they ought to also look at supermarkets as a key component of mixed-use planning.
We need to consider fresh, healthy food as fundamental to a functioning neighborhood as paved roads, sanitation and police and fire protection. It is an investment in the future that will pay dividends and improve the lives of millions. We have it in our power to accomplish this goal and it ought to move to the top of our agenda.
Nothing could be more fundamental to our well-being than healthy food and nutrition, and people have become increasingly focused on the sourcing and quality of what they eat. Just as we rightly demand that all children have equitable access to a quality education, we must ensure that they have not just the knowledge but the ability to make healthy food choices.