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Health Advocates Want MN Lawmakers to Take Action on Food Access Disparities

An upcoming report shows access to healthy foods has been shrinking, especially for rural and low-income Minnesotans. (iStockphoto)
An upcoming report shows access to healthy foods has been shrinking, especially for rural and low-income Minnesotans. (iStockphoto)
April 4, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans are facing serious challenges to accessing healthy food in the state.

According to a soon-to-be-released study, about 235,000 Minnesota residents live more than 10 miles away from a grocery store that stocks fresh fruits and vegetables.

The study is partly funded by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Spokeswoman Janelle Waldock says the Wilder Research Center study also found that about a third of those residents are low-income.

It's a growing problem that she maintains could lead to higher health care costs for the state.

"When people don't have the opportunity to eat healthy, it contributes to many serious chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and even some cancers," she states.

To help expand access to more nutritious foods, Waldock and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota are urging lawmakers to consider setting aside about $10 million in the next budget for what's called the Good Food Access Program.

The idea is to provide grants and low-cost loans to expand healthy food access by upgrading existing grocery stores, or by helping people set up farmers markets.

Waldock says the need is growing as the number of grocery stores is shrinking in some parts of the state.

"There are places in rural Minnesota that are really struggling to keep a grocery store open,” she points out. “We've seen data that a total of 53 out of 87 Minnesota counties saw a loss in the number of grocery stores between the years 2007 and 2012."

Bills aimed at establishing the Good Food Access fund are sitting in both the state House and Senate.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN