Nearly 700,000 Dallas County, Texas residents, including more than 250,000 children, live in lower-income communities with limited access to supermarkets. Thirty-six percent of Dallas County ZIP codes have limited access to affordable and nutrition foods.
The demographic and economic disparities of communities with limited food access are considerable. Dallas County communities with limited food access have twice the percentage of African-American and Latino residents, and nearly twice the number of families who live below the poverty line, as compared to white, higher-income residents.
Residents in communities without a local grocery store tend to suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related health problems. Children often rely on convenience stores where they end up choosing snacks high in calories and low in nutritional content, and local stores in these neighborhoods typically do not offer fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains or healthy dairy, meats or fish. Partly because of this, 49 percent of Dallas County children are either overweight or obese.
To bring awareness to the need for better access to healthy food in the Dallas community, Children at Risk, a research and advocacy group, convened the Dallas Healthy Food Retail Summit on Thursday, February 19, 2015.
At the summit, a report from Children at Risk and The Food Trust was released. The report, Food for Every Child: The Need for Healthy Food Retail in the Greater Dallas Area, identifies gaps in fresh food availability and the relationship among healthy food access, diet-related diseases and neighborhood income levels.
“Through mapping, this report shows that the uneven distribution of supermarkets in Dallas County leaves a disproportionate number of lower-income people without convenient access to nutritious food. These same areas also reflect a higher incidence of diet-related deaths,” explained PreventObesity.net Leader Sara Melnick Albert, Assistant Director of Food Policy at Children at Risk.
Research has shown that when people live in a community with access to a full range of fresh foods, they tend to eat more servings of fruits and vegetables and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. The Dallas communities that have the most limited access to fresh, nutritious food are the same communities that lack other resources and assets, and are most in need of concentrated revitalization strategies and public and private ingenuity.
In the fall of 2014, Children at Risk embarked on a local policy initiative to improve access to healthy food in Dallas. The organization has been working on driving awareness around the critical need to improve fresh food resources in many neighborhoods, and advocating for a public-private response to develop a community-wide strategy.
“Charting the Course, a project of the Health and Wellness Alliance for Children in Dallas, is a community collaborative that is developing healthy food access strategies as part of a comprehensive response to childhood obesity,” said Albert. “Children at Risk has joined forces with Charting the Course to launch a Healthy Corner Store Program for Dallas.”
The Healthy Corner Store program will engage the city of Dallas and community partners to work with existing small store owners in areas that are underserved by grocery stores. The program will provide store owners with marketing and retail expertise, and infrastructure and store improvements that will support the sale of healthier food options.
The program will also partner with nutrition education providers to tailor nutrition programming aimed toward improving healthier food choices and strengthening demand for healthier food products in these neighborhood stores.
Another recommendation of the report is to create a Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which would provide grants, loans and tax credits for new supermarket developments. Supermarkets would not only increase access to nutritious food, but also bring jobs into the communities that need them most.
“Leading public health experts agree that the availability of nutritious and affordable food is a key factor in the development of a healthy community. Dallas, despite its affluence and reputation as one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country, suffers from inequitable access to healthy affordable food,” Albert emphasized.
By utilizing the strategies outlined in the report, Albert hopes that Dallas will be moving toward providing healthy food options to children and families in every ZIP code.
“Improving the availability of fresh food resources and making healthy choices available in these underserved areas is important to ensuring a healthy environment for all Dallas area children and their families,” Albert said.
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