Children benefit from proper nutrition, but there are many parents and caregivers who simply don’t have the means to purchase the food their children need to grow up healthy. Unfortunately, this is the case in Michigan where nearly 18 percent of individuals are “food insecure.” That means 1.8 million Michigan residents—including 300,000 kids — have limited access to fruits and vegetables because they live too far from a grocery store.
In Michigan, nearly one in four children live in poverty, with household incomes under $24,036 for a family of four. These families often struggle to feed their children at all, let alone feed them healthy and nutritional meals that their bodies need.
While these are startling statistics, the American Heart Association in Michigan, funded by a grant from Voices for Healthy Kids, are encouraged by a new law that will help mitigate food insecurity issues in Michigan. Public Act 239 of 2017, known as the “Grocery Store Bill,” will allocate approximately $12 to $15 million toward increasing healthier food options in Michigan over the next five years. The goal is to ensure that underserved areas of the state get access to fruits and vegetables. In exchange, participating eligible properties for development or existing businesses, including small grocers or other stores, can apply for incentives that include grants, loans, or other economic assistance.
Callie Bradford, an American Heart Association advocate, local business owner, health coach and mom who lives in Warren, the third largest city in MI, believes this bill will significantly impact communities across the state. She explains that for many working families living in rural areas, the nearest grocery store may be miles away. “If you don’t have a car, then how do you have access to healthy foods?” Bradford asks. This issue forces parents to buy food from the nearest gas station or convenience store, limiting their options to packaged and over processed foods.
With this new law, Bradford expects that local gas stations and convenience stores will be able to expand their food selection and provide fruit and vegetables. In fact, she’s already seen more “local grocery stores popping up,” as smaller businesses are now better able to meet the health needs of these communities.
Increased access to locally sourced fruits and veggies would not only benefit the health of many residents but also provide a boost to local economies. While it’s too early to predict specific numbers, Bradford sees the bill as a job creator. From mom-and-pop shops to the larger grocery chains, stores may need to staff more employees to get the produce on their shelves.
For Bradford, creating awareness around these important changes is the next step for progress in Michigan. She believes it’s important for communities across the state to ensure that families, local organizations, farmers, city councils and business owners understand how the legislation will impact them.
As an advocate for health and wellness in her own community, Bradford is excited to do her part to help spread awareness of this positive, life-impacting change in Michigan. “Business owners will have to be educated on how this would benefit them ultimately in the long run,” Bradford says. Among other things, it’s about “helping these gas stations to expand and…think more like grocers than gas station owners.”
Food insecurity is not going to be solved with one shift in policy, but Michigan’s “Grocery Store Bill” is a step in the right direction. “We’ve known for a long time access to healthy food has a measurable impact on people’s diet and health outcomes. For many in Michigan a full-service grocery store isn’t close by or doesn’t exist at all. That leaves them farther from healthy fruits, vegetables and proteins and closer to an increased risk of heart disease” said David Hodgkins, Government Relations Director at the American Heart Association. “It will take a ‘multifaceted approach to solve this complex problem’ and there are complimentary efforts underway, like Michigan’s Double Up Food Bucks Program and The Food Bank Counsel of Michigan.”
With the implementation of this law, advocates expect to see a change in the lives of families across the state of Michigan who can now provide their children with more options for nutritious food. The hope is that other states can follow Michigan’s lead
If you’re interested in mobilizing a similar initiative in your community, Voices for Healthy Kids has resources to help you make a difference. Our Healthy Food Access toolkit has a variety of helpful information for building out your own advocacy efforts aimed at ensuring all families have access to healthy foods. You’ll find step-by-step tips for building your campaign, sample content and more.