A focus on healthy living has been front and center in the past few years, with a special focus on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity. Last week the newswires and blogs were buzzing about Beyoncé joining the First Lady’s fight to end childhood obesity. In a video with middle school kids, Beyoncé is putting a fun spin on healthy eating habits and exercise through dance. But healthy eating isn’t as easy as one may expect for disadvantaged people living in poor neighborhoods.
Healthy food is oftentimes not feasible for the bulk of poor, working class, and increasingly middle class Americans having to choose between buying food or paying rent. Over on Reclaiming the Narrative: Making History (&Writing It Too!), blogger Arri reflected on the issues her mentees face daily in their Oakland neighborhoods. Among them was their access to not just healthy food, but food period. Arri writes:
“There are 53 liquor stores and 0 grocery stores in West Oakland. (Compare this to the more affluent Claremont neighborhood where there are 6 grocery stores in the proximity of 3 blocks.)”
Not only is the access to grocery stores in certain neighborhoods an issue, but the cost to eat healthy also has to be taken into consideration.
In ABC’s “Healthy Foods Harder to Find in Poor Neighborhoods” article, researchers prove finding healthy food in stores located in poor neighborhoods is less likely than in affluent neighborhoods.
“Where you live matters in terms of your diet,” said study author Dr. Manuel Franco, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “If you live in a neighborhood with no healthy options, it’ll be tough for you to change your diet.”
The study found that 43 percent of predominantly Black neighborhoods were in the third of neighborhoods with the least healthy food, while only four percent of predominantly white neighborhoods were among the third of neighborhoods with the least healthy food. A similar study done showed that 24 percent of blacks lived in neighborhoods with low availability to healthy foods in comparison to four percent of whites.
Although the studies were limited to Baltimore only, and visited 226 grocery and convenient stores, and 759 Baltimore residents respectively, the numbers are reflective of not only what poor communities have been facing for decades, but what the depleting middle-class is starting to feel since the economy plummeted nearly three years ago.
I commend the efforts to eradicate obesity, especially among children. With staggering figures suggesting African-American women having the highest rate of being obese in comparison to other groups, and 22.4 percent African-American children ages 6-17 were obese in 2007-2008, we cannot afford to not address eating habits and exercise. But more attention must be paid to the difficulties for poor people to purchase healthy food.
The cost of food worldwide rose 37 percent from February 2010, according to the U.N. Therefore, grocery stores were left with the options of raising the cost of food or keeping the prices the same while cutting back on the amount of food in portions. When families are thinking of stocking their refrigerators and cabinets for food, cheap corn, wheat and soy will win out over $3.99 a pound strawberries or fresh broccoli.
Communities of black and brown people must take their destiny in their own hands through agriculture. For starters, communities as a group should consider the benefits in investing in community gardens. Poor neighborhoods have not been able to depend on the government to ensure there are quality grocery stores in their area. In New York City urban garden projects have sprung up throughout the city. The Urban Youth Agriculture Project for example, focuses on fostering the self-esteem, leadership an entrepreneurial spirit of at risk youth through their involvement with growing and marketing crops. Once disadvantaged neighborhoods grow their own fruits and vegetables, they take control of their healthy living.
And Shannon Zenk, Assistant Professor of University of Illinois has the right idea too, in terms of forcing city and state officials to improve the access to healthy foods:
“Obesity and numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are more prevalent in low-income than higher income neighborhoods,” Zenk said. “Ensuring that residents of these neighborhoods have access to nutritious foods is a critical first step to promoting healthy eating and, in turn, reversing the obesity epidemic and preventing chronic diseases.”
But the key will be to grow our own foods.