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Food Access: "Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice"

Food Access: "Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice"

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

Mary Lee knows firsthand the fallout from living in an area without proper access to fresh, healthy food: She drives past three South Los Angeles grocery stores offering expired tortillas and wilted produce to get to a better supermarket in a more affluent area. [In the audio clip below, she discusses the goals of her work.]

Access to healthy food is a challenge for more than 23.5 million Americans, Lee, associate director of the advocacy organization PolicyLink told USC/California Endowment Health Journalism Fellows who are meeting in Los Angeles this week. Most of those Americans live in low income neighborhoods, rural areas and communities of color, Lee said.

In Baltimore, for example, 46 percent of lower income neighborhoods have limited access to healthy food, compared to 13 percent for higher income ones, she said. One-fifth of food stamp recipients in Washington, DC live in an area without a grocery store.

"Health is more than your biology and physiology. Where you live affects your health. Place matters," Lee said. "And where you live, for people of color, is almost always determined by your race."

When people don't have access to fresh, nutritious, reasonably-priced food in their communities, their health suffers as they rely on fast food and other unhealthy alternatives. Obesity and diabetes rates rise as a result.

Lee described some of the work PolicyLink and other organizations are doing to improve food access in low-income neighborhoods, including starting community gardens, farmers markets, and attracting supermarkets to these communities. (You can read PolicyLink's  "Healthy Food, Healthy Communities" report on improving healthy food access here.)

"Our goal in this work is to make the healthy choice the easy choice," Lee said. "Can we shift so that we're subsidizing broccoli and oranges as opposed to corn?"

Related Posts:

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Shortened Lives: The Backstory of How Where You Live Affects Your Health

Mary Lee on Zoning and Food Deserts (YouTube video)

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