Michelle Obama attacks 'food deserts'

Staff - nydailynews.com - 07/27/2011

The First Lady is attacking "food deserts" – places where fresh produce and affordable, healthy choices are nonexistent.

Michelle Obama has teamed up with retailers, including Wal-Mart, Walgreen's and Supervalu, to open locations and sell fresh food to underserved neighborhoods.

"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 minimart, then all that is just talk," she said Wednesday.

Obama defines a food desert as an area where healthy foods are tough to come by and often too expensive for residents. In a food desert, it's more convenient and cost effective for people to eat fast food and sodas.

According to the White House, around 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in food deserts.

Wal-Mart, Supervalu supermarkets and Walgreen's pledged to open more than 1,500 shops over the next five years to sell fresh, nutritious foods in communities throughout the country that are without access to affordable, nutritious food options.

The fight against food deserts is one of the linchpins in Obama's Let's Move campaign, launched last year to try to bring down the staggering rate of childhood obesity, which affects one in five children in the United States.

Obama said that bringing healthy food options would give parents what they really want: choice.

"If a parent wants to pack a piece of fruit in a child's lunch, if a parent wants to add some lettuce for a salad at dinner, they shouldn't have to take three city buses or pay some expensive taxi to go to another community to make that possible," she added.

Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said making healthy food affordable and accessible is critical to battling the child obesity epidemic.

Nearly half of kids with weight problems live in poverty and in neighborhoods with no shops that sell fresh foods, she said.

Fresh food retailers would not only offer help kids and parents make healthier choices – it would also combat "job deserts."

Barnes emphasized that more retailers would mean more employment opportunities.

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