Let's expand access to healthful food

Access to healthy food is a right, not a privilege. Unfortunately, in our state, this right is denied to thousands of Hoosiers simply because of where they live. There are more than 500 neighborhoods in Indiana that are classified as "food deserts" — areas in which fresh, healthy foods are scarce.

The health costs of low food access are dire. Research tells us that individuals who lack access to healthy food have increased likelihood of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. There are very real economic costs as well. Grocery stores can be the cornerstones of the communities they serve; they boost the local economy, create jobs and provide markets for local farmers. On a larger scale, expanding healthy food access has the potential to lower health-care costs in the long run and contribute to a healthier, more productive workforce.

In a state like Indiana, where the food access landscape is already bleak, the recent announcement by Marsh Supermarkets of its impending bankruptcy and store closures means the number of Hoosiers who lack access to healthy, affordable food continues to grow. During the 2017 legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly missed an opportunity to address this issue through an innovative, comprehensive healthy food financing model. It failed to pass a bill that would have provided funding for businesses, not-for-profits and local food banks in underserved communities to open, expand and improve grocery stores and entrepreneurial ventures that would increase access to healthy food.

This model would bring a triple benefit to communities: a revitalized economy, job creation and better health. This coalition and its partners in the business, health-care and community-service sectors plan to continue fighting for passage of this important legislation. With Marsh and other food retailers closing all over the state, it is more important than ever for our state lawmakers to act on behalf of the communities they serve and ensure ALL Hoosiers have access to healthy, affordable food. Call, email or schedule a meeting with your state senator and representative and let them know you support healthy food financing in Indiana.

Dr. Jacquelyn Thomas-Miller, Minority Health Alliance of Howard County

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