Friday, May 2, 2014

Health is more than Health Care . . .

Access to healthy food makes a big difference
by Erika Jerme, JCPH Planner

Health is more than health care. How healthy we are, and whether or not we will get sick, is shaped by the houses and neighborhoods we live in, the schools and worksites we spend our days in, and the communities in which we play and age.

One way these places shape our health is through our access to healthy food. Think about where you go to get your groceries. How do you get there? How long does it take you to get there? How do you get your groceries home? If you have a car, these questions probably aren’t that big a deal. But imagine if you didn’t have a car: how would that change your experience of buying groceries? Would you still be able to shop at the same store, or would you have to shop somewhere closer to home, even if that meant the selection or prices were not as good?

Many neighborhoods in the US don’t have grocery stores within a half-mile radius, a reasonable distance to walk with a couple bags of groceries. The US Department of Agriculture has a name for these neighborhoods: food deserts. Across the US, low-income neighborhoods have 25% fewer supermarkets than do middle-income neighborhoods, while predominately African-American neighborhoods on average have half the number of supermarkets found in predominately white neighborhoods.[i] Although low-income neighborhoods may have smaller food stores, fresh fruits and vegetables generally cost more, are of lower quality, and are less available at small stores than at supermarkets or large grocery stores.[ii]

What do these food deserts mean for health? We know that eating a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is important for healthy living. People who live near supermarkets or other food stores that sell fresh produce eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and have lower rates of chronic diseases than people with limited access to healthy food.[iii] Moreover, as the price of fresh fruits and vegetables rises, consumption of these healthy foods decreases.[iv] For someone who doesn’t drive or doesn’t own a car, getting to a store that sells affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables can be very difficult.

Here in Colorado, people are taking action to make sure everyone has access to healthy food, regardless of what neighborhood they live in. For example, the Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund can support a wide range of activities that improve access to healthy food retail. Some examples include: business start-up and expansion costs; opening a new store; keeping a store open under new ownership; new or upgraded equipment and displays; land assembly; and developing an innovative business concept. Click here for a program overview, detailed program guidelines with eligibility criteria, or the pre-application form.

Just down the street from Jefferson County Public Health in Lakewood’s Two Creeks neighborhood, Sprout City Farms has broken ground on a brand new urban community farm at Montair Park.  Mountair Park is located at 14th & Depew St., and  approximately 1.25 acres will be converted to farm. This farm will bring much-needed fresh produce to the neighborhood. And many Jeffco neighborhoods have community gardens where people can grow their own food, even if they don’t have a yard.
To get involved in increasing healthy food access in your neighborhood, email us at

1 Powell, LM, Slater, S, Mirtcheva, D, Bao, Y, & Chaloupka, FJ (2007). Food store availability and neighborhood characteristics in the United States. Preventive Medicine, 44, 189–195.
2 Odoms-Young, AM, Zenk, SN, Karpyn, A, Xochitl Ayala, G & Gittelsohn, J (2012). Obesity and the Food Environment Among Minority Groups. Current Obesity Reports, 1(3), 141-151.
3 PolicyLink & The Food Trust (2010). The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why it Matters. Available at
4Odoms-Young, AM, Zenk, SN, Karpyn, A, Xochitl Ayala, G & Gittelsohn, J (2012). Obesity and the Food Environment Among Minority Groups. Current Obesity Reports, 1(3), 141-151.

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