Why is Land Access Critical? Bridging the Gap Between Food, Health and Land

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November 21, 2017 - Author: Nishi Singhal

This paper provides a brief explanation of connections between health and access to farmland. With diet-related chronic disease rates escalating in the United States, farmland being threatened by development, and more and more producers retiring without a succession plan we have reached an intersection of troubling realities. Land for agricultural purposes is critical to our nation’s health. Without available land and farmers, the future of agriculture and the public’s health is in jeopardy.

A history of poor eating has a cumulative effect and have contributed to significant nutrition-related health challenges that now face the U.S. population. About half of all American adults — 117 million individuals — have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor quality eating patterns and physical inactivity. These include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and poor bone health. More than two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and youth are overweight or obese. These high rates of overweight and obesity and chronic disease have persisted for more than two decades and come not only with increased health risks, but also at high cost. In 2008, the medical costs associated with obesity were estimated to be $147 billion. In 2012, the total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes was $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in decreased productivity.

Concurrent with these diet-related health problems persisting at high levels, trends in food intake over time show that, at the population level, Americans are not engaging in healthy eating patterns. Just 13% of Americans consume the recommended amount of fruit every day and less than 9% consume the recommended amount of vegetables.

However, our country doesn’t have enough of the vegetables we are supposed to eat. Nearly 50% of vegetables available in 2013 were either tomatoes or potatoes. So while it is recommended that adults consume two to three cups of vegetables a day, only 1.7 cups are available per person. The vegetable supply would need to increase by 70% for Americans to meet the recommended daily amounts.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Only about 2% of U.S. farmland is used to grow fruits and vegetables, while 59% is devoted to commodity crops. But this situation isn’t just bad for our waistlines—it’s also holding back farmers and rural economies, and hurting the quality of life in farm communities and beyond.” If Americans ate the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, this in turn would drive changes in farming practices that would build healthier soil, improve air and water quality, and increase access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods in farm communities. It would also be good for farmers, as recent studies have shown that more diverse, local food systems create jobs and increase farm profits.

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This document is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22856.

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Tags: beginning farmer, center for regional food systems, emerging farmers

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