by intern Jessie Weiland
Some time ago I received a call from my father back home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He’d just returned from an urban bike trek through inner city Milwaukee and was now in an angered emotional state bordering on manic distress. “It’s just not right. You shouldn’t have to go miles from your neighborhood to find an apple,” he raged. His rant on his futile hunt for food of the healthy variety was heightened by his newfound dedication to a diet. I could picture his hands wildly dancing above his head now, “I just wanted an apple. I walked past a Chick-A-Lil’s, a Mickey D’s, a Burger King—there must have been at least 15 different fried food places and not one fruit store.” I then listened to him vividly outline his plans to open up a fruit and nut stand in the area of concern, ӅAnd I’d call the store, The Health Nut!!!”
My father’s dissatisfaction with inner-city food availability was valid; it’s a dissatisfaction echoing across America in cities and rural areas alike and sadly, reflecting our thickening waistlines. Last year, food insecurity was a daily reality for 14.6 percent of Americans . Now, as we draw the lines between health care and food choices, let us also make the connection between food environments, the fundamental ability to make healthy decisions, and income. According to the New York Department of City Planning the availability healthy, fresh food directly corresponds with income and consequently, skyrocketing obesity rates.
Last month, the advocacy group PolicyLink hosted a webinar on the subject called, An Apple a Day: Bringing Healthy Food to All Communities. The call kicked off with PolicyLink president, Judith Bell. She showed a series of compelling maps that outlined this fundamental issue: that the consumption of fruits and vegetables is lowest in low-income neighborhoods where obesity and diabetes cases are high. In these areas where there are higher obesity rates, healthy food choices are far and few in between—There are fewer supermarkets and fruit and veggie stands, and more fast food retailers and convince food stores. For people in neighborhoods suffering from a lack of nutritious food and at the mercy of the flood of fast food joints, funding is a major obstacle for development. According to Judith Bell, past efforts have not solved this giant failure in the market. Studies from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene state that now approximately 3 million New Yorkers live in these underserved, high needs neighborhoods. And that’s just New York.