Moving America Forward

Ask the Experts: How to Bring Fresh, Healthy Food to the Neediest Families

May 23, 2014
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Ask the Experts: How to Bring Fresh, Healthy Food to the Neediest Families
Low-income families often rely on corner stores for their grocery needs, which means few choices beyond highly processed, packaged foods. Shawn Hoke/Flickr
The problem of the so-called food desert: Low-income neighborhoods lack access to fresh foods. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
In a nation of abundance, why are so many people still going hungry? Here are 5 ways to fix the problem.

We are a nation where rolling plains are covered in fields of wheat and corn, where rivers are filled with tumbling salmon, where orchards abound and valleys are filled with row upon row of vegetables. And yet millions of families live within our borders with empty cupboards and hungry children. In 2011, about 18 million households in the United States were described as “food insecure” — having limited or uncertain access to safe, nutritious foods — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “More importantly, households with children are nearly twice as likely to be food insecure,” according to a recent analysis by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Share Our Strength, which noted that about 4 million American families have children who lack access to adequate nutritious food. For children, food insecurity heralds a lifetime of future problems, including deficits in health and academic achievement.

Simply providing government assistance isn’t enough. A 2012 study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often referred to as food stamps, eat less healthy diets — with fewer whole-grain products and more potatoes, red meat and sugary soft drinks — than people who didn’t receive SNAP benefits. The study didn’t make clear exactly why this is so, but part of the problem has to do with access. Many residents of low-income neighborhoods, urban or rural, don’t have easy access to grocery stores or other fresh-food options — the so-called food desert problem.

It’s an issue that’s received a lot of attention, but so far, few scalable solutions. So NationSwell asked the experts to weigh in on this question: How can we bring healthy food to our neediest neighborhoods? Read below for their hopeful responses, and then leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

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