Good Food Access for Families and Communities Report

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January 1, 2011 - Author: Andrea King Collier, Celeste Rabaut

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Current State of Affairs

Michigan has a problem of inadequate access to good, healthy, affordable food. Does it affect every individual and family living in the state? No. Does it affect neighborhoods and communities across Michigan? Absolutely.

Access to good food - food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable - is an issue for individuals, families and communities in every county in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA), in conjunction with the U.S. Census Bureau, used census tracts to identify areas in Michigan with “limited access” to a grocery store – i.e., a population of low- and moderateincome residents, a below-average density of grocery stores, and travel limitations to stores due to store distance, lack of vehicle access and lack of public transportation infrastructure. MDA found that every county in the state has at least one area (often more) that met this definition, and that 59 percent of all Michigan residents live in a limited access area. Approximately 54 percent of all census tracts in Michigan lack reasonable access to retail grocery stores that offer healthy and affordable fresh produce, along with meat, poultry, milk and dairy products.

One might assume that this is because Michigan has fallen hard in the economic crisis. But anyone familiar with urban areas such as Detroit, Flint, Benton Harbor or Pontiac will tell you that the lack of grocery stores that provide fresh, affordable food within these cities has been around for decades. Detroit, for example, has 155 grocery stores and food markets that carry some level of meat and produce, and well over 1,000 convenience stores, including gas stations and party stores, that may carry some level of food. But in reality, in cities such as Detroit, it is often easier to buy a bottle of beer than it is to get an apple. Even if you can get an apple, it probably costs more than the bottle of beer. And the apple most likely traveled many miles to get to the store.

Researchers have documented that Detroit residents living in areas that have an imbalance of healthy food options are statistically more likely to suffer or die prematurely from diet-related diseases. But Detroit is not alone in this struggle. Areas outside Detroit - including Pontiac, Lansing, Grand Rapids and Flint, as well as rural counties - are also paying a high price for lack of access to quality food.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested that, without serious intervention, diet- and lifestyle-related diseases will lead to a generation - today’s children - that for the first time in history will have shorter life spans than their parents. Simply put, our diets are killing us. The issue has become so essential to the health and well-being of Americans that First Lady Michelle Obama has announced the Let’s Move campaign to reduce childhood obesity. To support that effort, the federal government has included increased funding for healthy grocery stores in underserved areas.


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