Making Healthy Foods Available to Underserved Areas

January 4/Camden, N.J./States News Service -- The following information was released by Rutgers University:

A prestigious national health journal has published the research of a Rutgers-Camden student who examined access to healthy and affordable food in underserved urban and rural areas in New Jersey.

Kirk Groomes Jr., who is pursuing his master of public policy and administration degree at Rutgers-Camden, published his research, "Identifying Potential Grocery Store Locations in New Jersey," in the International Journal of Health and Nutrition. He developed the research with Tetsuji Yamada, a professor of economics at Rutgers-Camden and a co-author on the published article.

"The study takes a look at the federal Task Force on Childhood Obesity, primarily focusing on its first objective, which is ensuring access to healthy, affordable food and initiating the Healthy Food Financing Initiative," says Groomes.

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative was established to improve the health of families and children, create jobs, and stimulate local economic development in low-income communities by bringing grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved communities across America. The national program replicates a 2004 model called the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative.

Groomes, who works 30 hours per week for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Student Career Experience Program, decided to apply the model locally to identify areas where new grocery stores could be established in New Jersey.

"Once I saw how drastic of a problem childhood obesity was, it caught my interest and I wanted to look at what was being done about this issue," says Groomes, who received undergraduate degrees in sociology and economics from Rutgers-Camden in May 2009.

Groomes notes that a lack of healthy, affordable food options can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases. In his article, he finds that economically distressed communities in the U.S. tend to have an over-saturation of fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer little or no fresh produce.

"What alarmed me was how many people generally don't have access to the quality of food one would need for a balanced diet," Groomes says. "This is as much of a rural issue as it is an inner city issue. There's potential to locate additional grocery stores in these underserved areas, even in New Jersey."

Groomes considered factors like percentage of households without cars that live greater than one mile from the closest store, percentage of low-income households that live more than one mile from the closest store, farmers' markets per capita, and grocery stores per capita.

"The analysis identified Ocean County as the ideal county to replicate a food financing program if resources were limited and only one county could be selected," Groomes explains.

He says that providing loans and grants for one-time start-up assistance to supermarkets in New Jersey would successfully attract investment in underserved communities.

"If you don't have access to fresh foods, there really isn't a way to apply nutrition education," Groomes says. "Having access to fresh, affordable, quality food is a key to combating childhood obesity."  

From the January 4, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News
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