How Michigan Communities Are Fighting Food Deserts

Did you know that almost 30 percent of Michigan residents are considered obese? Though the statistics are discouraging, there are lots of positive things happening in Michigan and beyond that are cause to celebrate Healthy Weight Week this week.

Apples vs. Twinkies

Finding affordable, healthy, fresh fruits and veggies in city neighborhoods often described as “food deserts” is a challenge. Larger grocery stores are often located in suburbs, and residents don’t always have the time or means to make the trek, as WOOD-TV 8 reported last week.

That’s why the FIT Stores Program is stocking Grand Rapids corner stores’ shelves with fruits, veggies and other healthy delicacies. Increasing access, options and empowering community residents to make healthy decisions are what the initiative aims to achieve.

This is just one thing that Project FIT, a collaboration between Michigan State University, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Grand Rapids Public Schools and other Grand Rapids community partners, is doing to fight obesity and create a cultural shift to wellness.

Growing From Seed

A similar project is occurring here in Detroit. It all started when guests of a soup kitchen shared their experiences and perceptions about obtaining fresh food in their neighborhoods. They talked about the ubiquitous liquor stores and how they only sold “things people were addicted to.” And that’s how Detroit FRESH was born.

Part of SEED Wayne, a sustainable food-system education and engagement program, the program is equipping corner stores in Detroit’s neighborhoods with fresh produce. Participants actually grow their own veggies year-round in a new solar green house at Earthworks Urban Farm. They also encourage local soup kitchen guests to participate in workshops related to local and state food policymaking and planning.

Grains to Go

Because obesity is a national epidemic closely pegged to high health care costs, the federal government is also getting involved.

The Agriculture Department has recently proposed new healthy school lunch guidelines. This would mark the first major nutritional overhaul of school meals in 15 years.

The Associated Press reports that the new USDA guidelines would:

  • Establish the first calorie limits for school meals
  • Gradually reduce the amount of sodium in the meals over 10 years, with the eventual goal of reducing sodium by more than half
  • Ban most trans fats
  • Require more servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Require all milk served to be low fat or nonfat, and require all flavored milks to be nonfat
  • Incrementally increase the amount of whole grains required, eventually requiring most grains to be whole grains
  • Improve school breakfasts by requiring schools to serve a grain and a protein, instead of one or the other

It will take years to implement this legislation. In the meantime, there are community projects currently underway on a national scale and here in Michigan that promote physical activity and healthy eating habits to school children.

Are there similar initiatives going on in your community? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Or if you have ideas for programs you’d love to see happen, let us know!

Photo credit: beckyjohns7

LEAVE A COMMENT

Read 3 Comments

  1. Thanks, Jacki!

    Obesity is definitely a complex condition with multiple risk factors. The most effective way to address the issue is to engage stakeholders from different sectors. I think coalitions that include policymakers, educators, health care providers, and community stakeholders have the best chance of creating sustainable change. We need to create a different paradigm for the way we live, eat, work and spend our leisure time. Everyone needs to fully understand the social and economic impact obesity has on the American way of life.

    Thanks for pointing out some of the small steps we are taking to address this serious public health issue.

  2. It’s great to hear what local communities are doing to help fight obesity. I believe improving the availability of nutritious foods in local communities and neighborhoods surrounding schools will encourage parents and kids to make healthy choices.

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