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Food-desert legislation deserving of support

January 23, 2016

A juicy, red strawberry. A sweet ear of corn on the cob. Many of us take fresh produce for granted, but thousands of Hoosiers do not have easy access to healthy foods, opting instead for fast food or packaged foods from convenience stores in their neighborhoods and in turn negatively impacting their health.

The USDA refers to urban areas without a grocery store within one mile as “food deserts.” In Indianapolis, the closing last year of Double 8 exacerbated and called attention to this problem. But it’s much more widespread than just one Indianapolis neighborhood. More than 20 percent of the population in five of the eight counties in the metro area live in food deserts.

Senate Bill 15, introduced by Sen. Randy Head and reported on by IBJ on Jan. 4, would lay the groundwork for grocers to bring more fresh produce to underserved communities across the state. A similar program created in Pennsylvania in 2004 helped open or expand 90 fresh food retail projects impacting an estimated 500,000 people. It also created or retained more than 5,000 jobs. That’s a win for both the economy and public health.

The time to act is now. As Hoosiers continue to struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease, there is strong medical evidence that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces those risk factors.

Improving access to fresh produce and healthier food options is a priority the American Heart Association strongly supports.

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Dr. Jeffrey Hilburn
president of Indianapolis board of directors of the American Heart Association
 

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