Posts filed under ‘Healthy Foods’

New Report Shows Income Inequality Correlates with Decreasing Health Outcomes

Americans are in worse health than their peers in other high-income democracies, according to a report released by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.  The report was looking at why, when America pays more for health care than any other nation, do Americans experience shorter life expectancy and increased mortality rates.

While these issues are felt across income and racial lines, they are more pronounced in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.  According to an article published last month in the Journal of American Medical Association, the report found that “Socioeconomic conditions matter greatly to health.  Although the United States is an affluent nation with high aggregate wealth, it also has pronounced income inequality and high rates of relative poverty.”

In fact, the study found that the U.S. increases in poverty and income inequality, including child poverty, have correlated with the worsening of social and health outcomes for the American population overall. While not a clear causal pattern, the report states that these “unsettling trends present a potentially important explanation for the U.S. health disadvantage.”  The report argues that health is connected to larger systematic issues such as social inequality, social mobility, unemployment, built food and physical environments, and patterns of food consumption. While there is not sufficient current research on the impact of these structural factors on health, these issues greatly influence individual behaviors.

Due to the strength of the data and the current detrimental conditions, the report advocates for more innovative policies and public – private partnerships that could impact our physical food and health environments.  This includes  increasing opportunities to give individuals and communities the tools and access to healthy food and living decisions while also improving the  nutritional quality of our food supply.  These issues are just what the Healthy Food Financing Initiative Programs forwarded by the CDFI Fund are tackling now.

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March 7, 2013 at 11:43 am

Parents Polled About Causes of Child Obesity

NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health recently conducted a poll to focus on what type of health decisions are made in American households on the average weekday evening.  The poll was attempting to answer why one in every three American kids are overweight or obese.

The answer, they found, was not that parents did not know that children needed healthy foods and exercise.  In fact, 95% of parents said it was important or very important to eat and exercise in a way that helps their child maintain a healthy weight. Most of the reason chopped down to how parents handled the day-to-day grind of preparing foods.  Up to 73% of parents reported that the children just liked the taste of foods that lead to unhealthy weight gain, and thus they ate the food.  The other reasons amounted to the inability to find the money or time to purchase and prepare healthy foods.

And the community environment and development had a large part to play in this situation.  The poll shows that around 25% of people reported that there were unhealthy food options that are close by, while healthy options were either not available or priced out of the family’s budget.  Additionally, when it came to walking and exercising in the community, over 20% were concerned about the safety of their children in exercising outside.

This all confirms the premise of the CDFI Fund’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative, that we need to reinvest in our communities to promote the accessibility and innovation in new ways to prepare and distribute healthy food options.  The families in our communities know and want their children to grow up healthy; eating the right foods and getting enough exercise.  However, we have systematic issues that are arising that are making it harder than necessary for these working families to make these decisions.  Through promoting new innovation in this field, and encouraging small businesses to help families meet their needs, we can encourage a healthier community to grow.

February 25, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Organic programs lost in Farm Bill extension

The 9-month farm bill extension that went into effect at the start of this year does not include important programs that support organic agriculture, reports Food Safety News. These programs were in the 2008 farm bill but did not qualify to be automatically part of the extension:

Among the organic programs that weren’t included in the extension of the 2008 farm bill are those that fund organic research and extension, cost share to become certified as organic, and an organic data collection system — the same sort of data collection system that has long been a mainstay for conventional agriculture and that qualified to receive continued funding.

Cuts to these programs will have a significant impact on organic farmers, especially those that are small and mid-sized operations. The cost share program, funded at $22 million in the 2008 bill, was intended to help these farmers cover their certification costs by providing a reimbursement on application fees, inspection fees, travel, and postage.

The cuts to research will also be significant, as the Cooperative Extensions  which operate out of universities in each state, were working to provide “research-based information” to producers, including organic farmers. Already, research for organic agriculture does not get enough funding to keep up with the growing industry. These cuts will only make this more severe.

As Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, says:

“It (the 2008 farm bill extension) undercuts where markets are going. Instead, with this extension, we have the government giving more money (in direct payments) to commodity farmers even though they don’t need payments now because they’re doing well. They’re ignoring what the consumers are voting for in the marketplace.”

Supporting organic agriculture is important in order to diversify our farming industry and expand access to healthy foods. These programs were established because our lawmakers recognized their important public benefits. Not being included in the farm bill extension is 9 months of continued uncertainty for these farmers. Let’s hope that Congress recognizes their importance in September when it takes up the farm bill debate again.

January 7, 2013 at 8:47 am

Report Shows Healthier Food Options Can Be Good Business

Earlier this year, the Hudson Institute published a study looking for the impact and suggestions on how companies can do well economically while providing good food choices.  The report was published as part of the Hudson Institute’s Obesity Initiative, a non-profit focused on finding market-oriented solutions to the obesity epidemic.  The focus is on finding solutions that will help solve obesity while still helping companies profit.

This report found that selling “better-for-you” foods (traditionally wholesome products or those that have no or reduced calories) actually shows a great increase in the company’s profits for consumer packaged goods. Companies offering a higher proportion of “better-for-you” foods saw superior sales growth, operating profits, returns to shareholders, and company reputation.  The report goes on to state that these indicators show that companies should be placing more emphasis on selling these “better-for-you” foods, and that public health officials should use this data to help businesses’ promote their core business goals while addressing obesity concerns.

While “better-for-you” foods might not show a full shift to healthy, local foods, it is a start to getting healthier food options into lower-income and low access neighborhoods.  7-Eleven seems to have taken these news to heart, as they recently announced a plan to double their sales of fresh foods in America and Canada by 2015.  The New York Times reports that this may be an ongoing trend, as convenience stores face declining sales of cigarettes and increased competition from other fast, fresh food options.  In light of these pressures, the mark-up on fresh foods is making it worth the hassle for these retailers to innovate in new ways to deliver high quality, attractive, fresh foods to go.

While steps like this may not be the end to the war on obesity and the complete answer to ending food deserts, we are happy to see that companies are innovating in ways that can encourage economic growth, promote healthier food options, and increase public health.

January 4, 2013 at 12:11 pm

NC ranked 33rd among states for health ranking

The United Health Foundation has released “America’s Health Rankings” which ranks the states on a variety of health indicators. This year, North Carolina ranks 33rd overall. The strengths of the state include:

  • low prevalence of binge drinking
  • low incidence of infectious disease
  • few poor mental & physical health days per month

The biggest challenges include:

  • low per capita public health funding
  • high prevalence of diabetes
  • high infant mortality rate & high prevalence of low birthweight

The report also  points to health disparities, as the obesity rate is significantly higher for African Americans (42.9 percent) than whites (26.5 percent) and Hispanics (24.8 percent).  Disparities also exist across geographies with some counties ranking higher on health, such as Orange and Wake Counties, while others, such as Robeson and Columbus Counties, ranking at the bottom.

The News and Observer reported on a presentation made by Pam Silberman, president and CEO of the NC Institute of Medicine, to the state legislature’s Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services. In her report, she highlighted the importance of taking a multipronged approach to improving health in North Carolina, similar to the effort made to reduce  teenage smoking:

A multipronged approach that included prohibitions on smoking on school grounds, state and federal cigarette tax increases, and anti-smoking television ads aimed at teenagers all contributed to the decline, she said. “What works is addressing problems at multiple levels,” Silberman said.

This is a critical point. Addressing health issues in our state will require a cross-sector approach that recognizes the interdependence of health, the economy, poverty, education, and a range of other issues. As the N&O states, “there’s a connection between residents’ health and unemployment rates, the percentage of people with health insurance, and child poverty…” Focusing on one issue without attention to the others will not lead to a systemic solution. As we’ve seen with most of the challenges faced by communities across the state and the nation, there are no “silver bullet” solutions. For the sake of our long-term health, resilience, and economic security we need integrative approaches and action steps to solve our biggest challenges.

December 12, 2012 at 10:52 am

Urban farms on the rise in Raleigh

Raleigh’s City Council will be hearing about urban farming in tomorrow’s council meeting.  WRAL reports that supporters of Raleigh City Farm, which is a community farm that was started on a vacant lot on Blount Street, will be appealing to the City Council to support the growing urban agriculture movement. Specifically, they will be asking the city to ease some of the requirements, such as the $200 fee and special permit requirement, that are needed in order to develop a community garden. Produce from the Raleigh City Farm– kale, carrots, arugula, and radishes (all grown by volunteers)– is used by the community members and it is also sold to local restaurants.

Raleigh City Farm is a unique endeavor that is both non-profit, but also has  built in sustainability into its model as well. This means that its aim is to support the operations of the farm through the sale of produce and services.  It was recently one of three winners of the “People and Planet” Green Business Award, which is an award by Green America that that recognizes “innovative entrepreneurial U.S. businesses that deeply integrate environmental and social considerations into their strategies and operations.”

One of the neighbors of Raleigh City Farm notes the positive impact that it has had on the neighborhood.  As residents of many communities face challenges in accessing healthy, fresh foods, urban farms can in fact provide an affordable way to not only expand access to healthy foods but also help revitalize neighborhoods. PolicyLink recently published a study examining the impact of urban farms on communities. The report found that community gardens not only improve the health of individuals, but they also improve local economies by creating jobs, creating opportunities for job training, incubating new businesses, and allowing families to save money on their food bills. In cases like Raleigh City Farms, the garden also helped to transform a vacant lot into a productive use of community space.

As the issues of healthy foods and sustainable agriculture gain more steam, it is important to keep equity and access at the forefront. Low-income families– both urban and rural– face significant challenges in meeting their nutritional needs since many of these communities lack proper grocery stores or farmers markets. This leads to health issues down the line, which not only affect individuals but communities as a whole. Projects like urban farms can help educate people about food choices and re-connect people to healthy fresh foods. Perhaps most importantly, involving residents in reshaping their environments and in the production of their own food can help empower people to become leaders and teachers in their own communities.

December 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm

More signs that farm bill could be a part of deficit reduction

There is still no definitive news about the farm bill, but as the deadline for the “fiscal cliff” approaches, there are more hints that the farm bill may be pushed as a part of  a deficit reduction package. As we blogged about previously, the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) are being sold as a solution to averting the fiscal cliff. Now, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, has spoken out about the issue:

“The farm bill is one of the only bills that provides substantial deficit reduction that passed the Senate this year,” Stabenow says. “It only makes sense that this deficit reduction bill would be included in a larger deficit reduction agreement.”

The Senate version of the bill would include $23 billion in cuts to nutrition assistance and farm subsidies over 10 years. The House version– which was never brought to a floor vote– would include $35 billion.

While agriculture groups are anxious for a farm bill to be passed, the cuts to SNAP would be devastating to the nearly 50 million people who rely on them, especially in these challenging economic times. We’ve shown before how safety net programs are key to keeping many families out of poverty.

A related news story reports that without a new farm bill, the price of milk could go up to $8 per gallon. The law will revert to the 1940s regulations, which include an out-dated formula for determining the cost of milk.  This would not only be a blow for consumers, but for dairy farmers as well. Even if the cost does not increase all the way up to $8, it is likely that prices will increase both because of a lapse in the farm bill  but also because of the severe drought that affected midwestern farmers.

The issues before Congress right now are pressing and critical to our economy, our agriculture industry, and our families. Hopefully an effort to expedite the passage of a new farm bill won’t compromise the needs of working families across America. As always, the issues are interrelated. A long-term solution would incorporate the needs and perspectives of both.

December 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm 1 comment

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