Health Activism

Transforming a Food Desert into an Oasis

Another aspect of food insecurity, which we continue to examine this week, is the existence of so-called “food deserts,” where people whose income levels do not afford them easy access to healthy, fresh produce live miles away from grocery stores and are left to seek out sustenance by other means.  This often results in their having to rely on poor food choices that negatively impact their health and well-being — or lack of food altogether.

The Village Gardens community in northwest Portland, Ore. started as a simple, community-run garden in the midst of a mixed-income housing project.  It has since sprouted into a fully-integrated community health project that stands as a powerful example of what can be accomplished when neighborhood residents, community-based organizations, non-profits and government organizations come together in support of people’s health and well-being. You can read more about this initiative here, but check out the video below for a view into Village Gardens.

Thanksgiving Week Q&A on Food Access and Security

Continuing our focus on food security and access, we have a Q&A with Arnell Hinkle, MPH, RD, CHES, executive director of CANFIT (Communities Adolescents Nutrition Fitness).  Arnell has been nationally recognized for her work providing culturally appropriate nutrition and physical activity education training resources emphasizing youth leadership.  Below is a brief excerpt of our conversation.

CTH Blog:
Arnell, why don’t we start with hearing about CANFIT, and how you are working to make sustainable change in low income communities and communities of color with regards to creating greater food access?

AH:
CANFIT was established in 1993 to bridge the gap between communities and policy makers when it comes to dietary and fitness issues for adolescents in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Today, we focus on youth engagement; we see it as an investment in sustainable change. We have worked with kids who developed the Youth Food Bill of Rights. And one of our current efforts, called the MO Project, focuses on teaching youth to use social media to advocate for healthier communities.

CTH Blog:
In terms of food access, help us connect the dots. What are the links between food security and health? Between food access and this country’s obesity epidemic?

AH:
Here’s the bottom line: People need access to food that supports health. From my perspective, there are really two food systems in the United States – one for those with means, and one for those with fewer means. And for those with fewer means, the food that is easy to access tends to be fast food, highly processed foods, foods higher in fat, sugar and sodium, fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, and more foods that contain hormones or chemicals – some of which can be obesogenic. None of those things support health. A big step would be improving the quality of the foods available to those with fewer means through the emergency food system (e.g., food banks and pantries) and the federal food system (e.g., school lunches, meals for the elderly).

CTH Blog:
What are your thoughts on food access and security in a week like this, with a holiday so focused on food?

AH:
It’s a tough time. With unemployment and inflation, people have less to begin with. And when it comes to expenses, the food dollar tends to be more elastic. Things like rent and car payments – they are usually fixed. So it tends to be people’s food budgets that are affected. And even in a week like Thanksgiving, a lot of people are forced to buy less or buy food that is less expensive, but often less healthy.

CTH Blog:
So what’s a small step an individual can take that can lead to meaningful change?

AH:
Write or call your legislators. Let them know you’re concerned. Make your voice heard.

Read more about CANFIT’s story and its policy work on food- and fitness-related issues at canfit.org.

For Thanksgiving: A Conversation About Food Security

Kathy Mulvey

This week, as many people prepare to celebrate abundance on the Thanksgiving holiday, we felt it worth looking at the topic of food security.  Perhaps it’s a phrase some of us aren’t familiar with, but at the 1996 World Food Summit, the World Health Organization defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”  It’s a complex issue touching on availability, access, economics and policy.  To help us better understand the topic, we sat down with Kathy Mulvey, policy director for Community Food Security Coalition for a brief Q&A.

CTH Blog:
Kathy, thank you for taking the time to talk today.  First, tell us a little about your organization — Community Food Security Coalition.

KM:
Our mission is to catalyze food systems that are healthy, sustainable, just, and democratic by building community voice and capacity for change. The coalition’s more than 500 organizational members come from anti-hunger, public health, sustainable agriculture, community economic development, and other sectors of the food movement.

CTH Blog:
Let’s look at the issue of food security from the perspective of most people this week — which is Thanksgiving. It’s a day dedicated to food in our culture — usually the abundance of it. What’s the reality in terms of food access? How big a problem is hunger for folks in the U.S.?

KM:
This is a time when we traditionally focus on food and family. But this Thanksgiving, in particular, given the economic uncertainty so many families face, the need for a strong safety net is more critical than ever. As of 2010, 14.5 percent of U.S. households were food insecure. That means millions of families simply do not have enough to eat and are hungry.

CTH Blog:
These facts can be overwhelming; it’s easy for people to feel helpless and powerless to make a difference. What can an individual do to take action and try to improve food security in his community?

KM:
It’s important for people to reach out to their legislators and demand to have a voice about where our food comes from. And on a grass-roots level, there are lots of things anyone can do: Start a garden in your community. Meet with your local school service director about getting locally sourced and farmed food into the cafeteria. Or volunteer at a food bank. Just take action.

To discover more about Community Food Security Coalition and its policy and grass roots efforts – including handouts on community food security programs and what one person can do to help, visit http://foodsecurity.org.

Challenges to Building a Healthy Community

In this second podcast in a series of three, Kaiser Permanente’s Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, and his colleague Tyler Norris continue their conversation about a vision for the future of healthy communities. In this segment, Ray and Tyler discuss the challenges to creating and sustaining communities and environments that support good health.

Tyler Norris and Ray Baxter, PhD

Challenges to Healthy Communities – Ray Baxter, Tyler Norris

Audio clip produced by Kaiser Permanente with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. www.storycorps.org

What Makes a Community Healthy?

Today’s post is the first in a series of three podcasts on the topic of a vision for the future of healthy communities. The series features excerpts from a conversation between Raymond J. Baxter, senior vice president of community benefit, research and health policy for Kaiser Permanente, and his long-time colleague, Tyler Norris, a trusted adviser to KP and other organizations on work that improves the health of people and places. In this first segment, Ray and Tyler consider what it means today to be a healthy community: How do we create opportunities for health in our neighborhoods, and how do we support — even protect — the healthy elements of living already in place?

Have a listen. Let us know what you think.

Tyler Norris and Ray Baxter, PhD

What is a Healthy Community? Raymond J. Baxter and Tyler Norris

Audio clip produced by Kaiser Permanente with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. www.storycorps.org

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