The California FreshWorks Fund: Getting Healthy Food Where It Is Needed Most
The Endowment, which funds ReportingonHealth, teamed with grocers, banks, health providers and community advocates to finance new and creative ways to buy nutritious food in areas where fast food restaurants are plentiful but supermarkets are scarce.
The California FreshWorks Fund will offer financing to grocers and other retailers to come up with creative ways to deliver healthy foods to people where they live. The financed projects are expected to create up to 6,000 jobs. While the fund and its partners will try to bring supermarkets to communities that lack them, it will explore other delivery options including farmers markets, expanded corner stores and even mobile fresh food vans.
"For us, it translates to thousands of jobs and opportunities for people to have access to quality food," said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, Executive Director of Community Health Councils during a press call on Wednesday. "This is not just about opening stores. With this fund comes the expectation of a better quality of food in our markets. It enables the grocery industry to think creatively about solutions to health from better food products."
Michelle Obama highlighted the FreshWorks fund Tuesday as she announced commitments by national food retailers to open or expand more than 1,500 stores to serve communities nationwide that don't have access to the fresh produce and other foods they need for good health. The retailers estimate that they'll serve approximately 9.5 million people with these new or expanded outlets.
It's notable that major health organizations like Catholic Healthcare West and Kaiser Permanente are contributing to the fund, noting that fresh produce and other healthy food can be part of a doctor's "prescription" for treating diabetes and other chronic diseases.
According to USDA data, 23.5 million Americans living in low-income areas lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home, 1.7 million of them in California. This makes getting fresh fruits and vegetables a real challenge and a potential threat to health, as people who don't eat enough produce face higher rates of diet-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, some studies have shown. However, research on the link between access to nutritious food and better health is not conclusive, with two new studies suggesting that improving food access doesn't help people lose weight or make healthier food choices as significantly as researchers expected.
Still, the FreshWorks Fund partners note that the new effort is just one of the many efforts needed to improve community health.
"Public health change doesn't come about with only one intervention," said Marley Klaus, communications director for The California Endowment.
In the coming months, the FreshWorks Fund's website will feature an interactive map showing which California communities lack access to healthy food. This will be a great tool for journalists and in a future post, I'll show you how use that map and other data sources to report food access stories in your community.
Photo credit: The White House