Limited Resources Placing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Out of Reach for Many Americans

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New FRAC Report Outlines Needed Strategies to Support Households’ Ability to Afford Healthy Food

A new report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) provides a unique look at the struggle to access healthy food that is being faced by millions of Americans, and especially low-income people.

Among all households across the years 2008-2010, 8.2 percent of respondents reported that it was “not easy to get affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.” But those with household incomes less than $24,000/year reported such affordability and access challenges 2.5 times more frequently (13.8 percent) than those with incomes between $60,000 and $89,999 (5.7 percent).

The report analyzes how the struggle by households to obtain affordable healthy food presents itself by race, income, health status, and in different parts of the country. Containing data down to the congressional district, FRAC’s report – A Half Empty Plate: Fruit and Vegetable Affordability and Access Challenges in America – analyzes the answers given by hundreds of thousands of survey respondents to a question posed for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project: “In the city or area where you live, is it easy or not easy to get affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.” FRAC characterizes “not easy” answers as evidence of an affordability and access challenge.

Among the biggest differences observed were those between income groups, and for those who experienced food hardship (an inability to afford enough food based on another Gallup question). Among those in households with food hardship, 18.5 percent reported affordability and accessibility problems, while only 5.7 percent of those in households without food hardship reported such challenges.

Other findings include:

  •     Hispanics and Blacks reported considerably higher rates of difficulty in accessing affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, compared to Whites and Asians.
  •     Among people reporting poor health status, the prevalence of fruit and vegetable affordability and access challenges was four times that of people reporting excellent health status (20.0 percent vs. 5.0 percent).
  •     Of the top fifteen hardest hit states, four were in the Mountain Plains (MT, ND, SD, and WY), four were in the West (AK, HI, ID, and NV), and three were in the Southwest (AR, NM, and OK).
  •     Most of the MSAs with the 20 worst rates were in the Southeast, Southwest, and West. More specifically, four of the 20 worst MSAs were in Florida, two were in Louisiana, and two were in Oklahoma.
  •     133 congressional districts had at least one in ten households with children reporting difficulty accessing affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.

“A household’s ability to access healthy food hinges on having enough resources to do so. What the data in our analysis show is that access and affordability are household economic insecurity problems as well as community ‘food desert’ problems,” said Jim Weill, FRAC President. “The remedies have to centrally include supporting families’ ability to purchase healthier food.”

Among remedies the report proposes are: efforts at the federal level to increase the adequacy of SNAP (food stamps) benefits so they go further; rejection of recent proposals in Congress to reduce SNAP benefits; increased outreach and reduced red tape at the state level so more people receive SNAP; assuring that stores accept SNAP EBT cards and WIC vouchers; and stronger efforts at the community level to increase the number of outlets offering healthy food. “In short, all households need adequate resources to obtain a healthy diet,” said Weill.

The full report is available on FRAC’s website (http://www.frac.org).

About the Report
A Half-Empty Plate contains the Food Research and Action Center’s analysis of survey data that were collected by Gallup. Gallup has been interviewing 1,000 households per day almost every day since January 2, 2008 for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project. People have been asked a series of questions on a range of topics including emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment and access to basic services. Specific to this report, people were asked, “In the city or area where you live, is it easy or not easy to get affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.”

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