For more than two decades, researchers have been gathering evidence to determine whether there are connections between access to healthy food and decreased obesity rates and other diet-related diseases.
In general, research shows that when communities have access to affordable, healthy foods, residents purchase and consume healthier foods over time. But improving access to healthy foods, especially in lower-income communities and communities of color in both rural and urban settings goes beyond improving diet and health outcomes: Bringing new food outlets into underserved areas also can provide an economic stimulus in communities that may need it most.
In addition to helping communities improve residents’ health, increasing access to healthy foods confers equally important economic benefits, including providing new jobs and job training programs, increasing wages, creating new tax revenues, stimulating local economic activity, and improving the viability of neighborhood retail districts.
Strategies to increase access to healthy foods have the potential to provide significant economic stimulus and community development, which is especially important during economic downturns. Healthy food access is, and should continue to be, an effective tactic for boosting economic and community vitality.
For decades, both economic and social barriers have prevented many healthy food retailers from entering underserved communities, where the economic benefits that these retailers bring are most needed. However, the tide is starting to turn, as programs offering incentives to retailers, consumers, and producers are providing the encouragement needed to overcome some of these historical barriers. These initiatives often demonstrate positive economic impacts with just a small amount of initial seed capital.