First Lady Michelle Obama Promotes $400 Million Initiative to Increase Access to Healthy, Affordable Food Nationwide

By Lindsey Ellerson

Feb 19, 2010 5:19pm

ABC News’ Karen Travers reports: First Lady Michelle Obama took her childhood obesity initiative on the road today and visited a new grocery store in an impoverished area of Philadelphia to shine a spotlight on the need for affordable healthy food options across the nation. Today the Obama Administration announced it will put $400 million toward its “Healthy Food Financing Initiative,” which aims to bring grocery stores and healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities across the nation. Increasing access to healthy foods is one of four key areas that the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative, which she unveiled earlier this month. The other elements include helping parents make healthy eating and lifestyle choices for their families; serving healthier food in schools; and increasing physical activity among the nation’s youth. The First Lady was joined in Philadelphia today by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The Healthy Food Financing Initiative is a joint effort by the Treasury, Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments. Mrs. Obama said that these underserved communities, sometimes called “food deserts” for their lack of healthy affordable food, are often found in poor areas. As a result parents have no options to buy healthy food and often resort to convenience stores or gas stations. The administration’s initiative will try to leverage investments to expand healthy food options into as many as one-fifth of the nation’s food deserts. The administration projects this initiative will also create thousands of jobs in urban and rural communities. Mrs. Obama said that the Agriculture Department estimates that 23.5 million people, including 6.5 million children, live in low-income areas where the closest grocery store is more than a mile away. The First Lady visited such a neighborhood in North Philadelphia that has been transformed by the addition of a new supermarket, the Fresh Grocer. The $15 million store opened last December through development by the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative that aims to increase the number of grocery stores in underserved communities across the Keystone State At the Fresh Grocer, Mrs. Obama greeted customers and store workers before ordering herself a strawberry-banana smoothie. “I have my own money,” she said before procuring a $20 bill. Mrs. Obama used the Fresh Grocer as an example of how investing in healthy foods can have a significant impact on a local community, not just in terms of improving health but also creating jobs and boosting the local economy. The store is located in a high poverty area of Philadelphia and the First Lady said today that the neighborhood had not had a grocery store in 10 years.  “That means if a mom wanted to buy a head of lettuce to make a salad in this community or have some fresh fruit for their kids lunch, that means she would have to get on a bus, navigate public transportation with big bags of groceries, probably more than one time a week or worse pay for a taxi cab to get to another supermarket in another community just to feed her kids,” she said. Since 2004, the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, working with the state of Pennsylvania and two Philadelphia-based nonprofits  (the Reinvestment Fund and the Food Trust) have spent $120 million to build 80 grocery stores across the state. Mrs. Obama said that the success that Pennsylvania has had in increasing healthy food options can be replicated across the nation. -Karen Travers

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