For the 23 million Americans who live in food deserts, Michelle Obama's announcement today may be a ray of sunshine. As part of her "Let's Move" campaign, the First Lady is joining forces with leaders from major retailers, foundations and small businesses committing to provide access to healthy, affordable food to people in underserved communities.
In an address broadcast live today on the White House's website, Mrs. Obama announced that nationwide food retailers including SUPERVALU, Walgreens, Walmart and other regional retailers will open or expand over 1,500 stores in areas that need it most.
A "low-access community," means that least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the tract population reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. In rural areas, the distance is more than ten miles.
In addition to creating tens of thousands of jobs and serving approximately 9.5 million people throughout the country, the initiative seeks to stem the spread of childhood obesity. According to findings by White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, limited access to healthy food choices can lead to poor diets, higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases.
According to Mrs. Obama, it's a matter of shifting the power into the hands of parents. She said today, “We can give people all the information and advice in the world about healthy eating and exercise, but if parents can’t buy the food they need to prepare those meals because their only options for groceries are the gas station or the local mini-mart, then all that is just talk."
The First Lady continued, "Let’s Move is about giving parents real choices about the food their kids are eating, and today’s announcement means that more parents will have a fresh food retailer right in their community – a place that sells healthy food, at reasonable prices, so they can feed their families the way they want.”
The SUPERVALU chain hopes to serve 3.75 million people and create more than 6,000 new jobs by opening 250 new Save-A-Lot stores over the next five years - a move that C.E.O. Craig Herkert thinks is just plain good business. He tells Eatocracy that the chain has made no secret of its desire to double the business done by its 1,280 existing stores, and the chance to align forces with the First Lady "ties in beautifully with the company’s focus to help America eat well."
He explained, "We have 400 Save-A-Lot stores in food deserts, and the business model works for us. It's the definition of a mom 'n pop operation. Most of the stores are independently owned, and these people put their life savings into a store that serves their community. It's not a fill-in store, even though it's one third the size of a traditional grocery store. It offers privately labeled goods and fresh produce at 40% less than the usual retail, and while this won't solve the problem, it's a start."
Herkert added, "Obesity spells trouble for this country. We have a role to play, and we're happy that Michelle Obama is letting us use her megaphone."
Also on the national scale, Walgreens has committed to converting at least 1,000 of its stores into food oasis stores, meaning that whole fruits and vegetables, pre-cut fruit salads and green salads as will now be available at these locations, which will serve an estimated 4.8 million people.
In January, Walmart joined the Let's Move campaign, announcing an extensive five-year plan to make its food healthier and more affordable and announced today that the chain is committing to opening or expanding 275 to 300 stores which will serve more than 800,000 people in food-challenged areas, adding 40,000 jobs to the workforce.
On a regional level, the California FreshWorks Fund, Philadelphia area's Brown’s Super Store, Alabama and Tennessee's Calhoun Grocer chain and Maryland's Klein’s Family Markets announced initiatives to expand access to healthy food and create or retain approximately 7,100 jobs.
Calhoun C.E.O. and president Gregory Calhoun says he is proud to join forces with the First Lady, issuing a statement today saying in part, "I know that it not just a commitment, but an obligation, to create opportunities for families in rural and urban areas of America...So I say 'LET’S MOVE!'”
Read more about food deserts and Michelle Obama's efforts to get America eating better
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