Minnesotans shouldn't have to worry about whether they can buy healthful and nutritious foods for themselves and their families.
An estimated 23.5 million Americans live in neighborhoods that lack access to something most of us take for granted: healthful food. In Minnesota, the problem affects not only the Twin Cities area but rural communities like the town of Clinton in western Minnesota's Big Stone County and city neighborhoods like Duluth's Lincoln Park.
Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans live in places where convenience and corner stores selling fast food, candy or supersized sodas are more accessible than grocery stores or farmers markets offering fresh produce and other healthful foods. To buy affordable healthful foods, residents have to travel greater distances, and often do not.
This lack of access to healthful food is a significant part of our state's continuing obesity epidemic. Over the past 15 years, the obesity rate in Minnesota has increased by 73 percent, with one in four adults currently suffering from the condition.
Last month, the U.S. Senate included a Healthy Food Financing Initiative in its reauthorization of the farm bill, the legislation that funds federal agricultural and food policies. The initiative would provide one-time grants and loans to a variety of healthful-food retailers, from full-service supermarkets to farmers markets, that want to set up, renovate or expand outlets in low-income urban or rural communities. This initiative helps boost employment and maintain the vitality of our cities and counties.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers have taken up the debate. They should finance this initiative in their version of the farm bill in order to bring healthful foods to Duluth, Clinton, and communities all over Minnesota and the United States.
We know that the Healthy Food Financing Initiative can be successful: A Pennsylvania program operating from 2004 to 2010 made it easier for an estimated 400,000 residents to find more-healthful food in their neighborhoods. The Pennsylvania initiative created or retained some 5,000 jobs in struggling neighborhoods and led to the financing of 88 healthful-food retailers in underserved locations.
We need to encourage our lawmakers in Congress to include the Healthy Food Financing Initiative in the farm bill not only because it is a sound investment, but because Minnesotans shouldn't have to worry about whether they can buy healthful and nutritious foods for themselves and their families.
The writer is professor and senior associate dean at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.