More than 1.7 million Virginia residents live in lower-income communities that have limited access to supermarkets. Despite the fact that Virginia’s largest industry is agriculture, many communities in the commonwealth do not have access to places where they can purchase fresh, healthy and affordable foods. Michelle Charters, the Regional Campaign Manager for the American Heart Association and ANCHOR, and those at Healthy Food Virginia have set out to change that.
In an effort to shed light on the food access problem in the Virginia communities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Hampton Roads, Michelle has organized grocery bag challenges during the local Heart Walks. “I worked with the Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Food is Medicine group, and asked if they would participate in the challenge. We wanted to shed light on those who have to walk at least one mile carrying their groceries in order to have access to healthy food,” said Charters. “We asked the participants to carry an eight-pound grocery bag for one mile and tell us what it was like. Many told us that they thought it would be easier than it was.”
While only a small group of participants carried the grocery bags in the Heart Walk, other participants were able to see them doing this during the walk. Michelle also posted signs along the route with statistics about the food access issue in Virginia. Some of the signs included:
In addition to the signs, they had a booth at the entrance to the Heart Walk where Michelle had food desert maps for Virginia available and information about how food access affects everyone. “At the booths, we had a lot of people come up and ask if they could carry grocery bags as well as those who were already doing it,” said Charters. “It was great to see people interested in learning more about the challenges of living in a food desert.”
With Thanksgiving and the holidays, Michelle and the ANCHOR team are working to shine more light on the food disparities in many Virginian communities. This video highlights how hard it is to access healthy food for these holiday meals. To learn more about other Virginian efforts to end food access issues, visit the Healthy Food Virginia website or search #healthyfoodVA.
ANCHOR, or Accelerating National Community Health Outcomes through Reinforcing Partnerships, is a community capacity building project funded by the CDC's National Implementation and Dissemination for Chronic Disease Prevention initiative. The American Heart Association is working in 15 markets around the country to mobilize key stakeholders and partners to protect people from tobacco smoke through smoke-free environment initiatives, improve access to healthy, nutritious food where people live, learn, work, and play, and encourage increased physical activity through shared use agreements and support of physical education in schools.