Poll: Minnesotans Say the State’s “Grocery Gap” is a Barrier to Healthy Eating

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A majority of those asked in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota poll say not all Minnesotans have access to healthy food; lack of stores that offer healthy choices is an obstacle for many.

“Increasingly, Minnesotans acknowledge that not everyone has the same opportunity to make healthy choices, and that our surroundings have a significant impact on our overall health and wellbeing,”

The path to affordable, healthy food is marked by significant barriers, according to a new poll commissioned by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. A “grocery gap” is felt by many Minnesotans, with nearly half (49 percent) reporting that not having a store nearby that sells healthy food impacts what they eat. Most Minnesotans (73 percent) also say difficulty finding healthy food on-the-go influences their decisions.

While these challenges are widespread, there is a growing recognition that some people face more significant obstacles than others. A majority of those polled (56 percent) don’t believe that all Minnesotans have access to healthy food, regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic background, while 16 percent are unsure.

“Increasingly, Minnesotans acknowledge that not everyone has the same opportunity to make healthy choices, and that our surroundings have a significant impact on our overall health and wellbeing,” said Janelle Waldock, director of the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. “We hear a growing desire for more access to healthy food in Minnesota communities, schools and workplaces, but there are varying perspectives regarding who is responsible for making these positive changes a reality.”

Barriers Are More Pronounced in Some Areas

A marked decline in the number of grocery stores serving smaller communities, especially in Greater Minnesota, appears to be a contributing factor. Fifty-five percent of those who live outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area say their food choices are at least somewhat influenced by a lack of stores nearby that sell healthy food. While this is significantly more than in the metro area, 46 percent of those living within the Twin Cities metropolitan area also report similar challenges.

Minnesotans report shopping for food once a week or more at traditional grocery stores (66 percent), mass merchandisers (47 percent) and corner or convenience stores (19 percent). More than one-third (33 percent) say they must travel at least 10 minutes in order to shop at a full-service grocery store, including a proportionate number of seniors and lower-income households, where reliable transportation may also present a barrier. Longer travel times are also more prevalent in Greater Minnesota, where 40 percent report traveling at least 10 minutes to shop at a grocery store, and in rural areas, where trips of more than 30 minutes are reported.

“There isn’t a single answer for how to increase access,” said Waldock. “It really depends on the community context and all avenues need to be explored. This includes encouraging existing retailers to offer more healthy options, and supporting new businesses that want to open in underserved areas.”

Communities Seen as Part of the Solution

Minnesotans believe their communities should be part of a healthy solution. Nearly all of those surveyed (96 percent) say it is at least somewhat important for communities to increase access to affordable and healthy food, with 42 percent of respondents saying its “important” to increase access to healthy food.

More specifically, a majority of those polled say retailers (77 percent), individuals (73 percent) and schools (62 percent), are at least somewhat responsible for creating a healthier food environment, while others cite government (39 percent), nonprofits and social service agencies (27 percent), and employers (22 percent).

Some efforts are already underway. The Minnesota Food Charter was created in 2014 by a broad-based group of Minnesota organizations, including the Minnesota Department of Health. The charter identified barriers to healthy food access and recommended policy and systems changes to help resolve them. Initiatives like those underway at Lakeshirts Inc. in Detroit Lakes, and the formation of a new food co-op in Milan, Minnesota, demonstrate the type of community-driven solutions the Food Charter encourages.

Based in Eagan, The Open Door provides healthy food through its food shelves and Mobile Pantry sites, as well as its Mobile Lunch Box program, which offers healthy lunches and activities for children and families when school is not in session. The organization’s Garden To Table® program promotes improved access to fresh produce by providing garden plots, vegetable and herb seeds, plants, tools and compost to food shelf clients at no cost.

“Improving the health of our communities – and of all Minnesotans – requires a multi-sector approach. The Minnesota Food Charter and other initiatives are an important part of this solution, but it will continue to require a broad-based effort to ensure that everyone in our state has the opportunity to choose healthy food and to live the healthiest life possible,” Waldock said.

About the Poll
The public-opinion poll was commissioned by The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and conducted online by ORC International’s CARAVAN® Geographic Omnibus in April and May 2015. It consisted of 1,000 respondents in Minnesota, ages 18 and older. The margin of error is +/-3.1 percentage points for the full sample.

About the Center for Prevention
The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota delivers on Blue Cross’ long-term commitment to improve the health of all Minnesotans by tackling the leading root causes of preventable disease: tobacco use, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating. Funded through proceeds from Blue Cross’ historic lawsuit against the tobacco industry, they collaborate with organizations statewide to increase health equity, transform communities and create a healthier state. Visit CenterforPreventionMN.com

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (bluecrossmn.com), with headquarters in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan, was chartered in 1933 as Minnesota’s first health plan and continues to carry out its charter mission today as a health company: to promote a wider, more economical and timely availability of health services for the people of Minnesota. Blue Cross is a not-for-profit, taxable organization. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, headquartered in Chicago.

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Tracy Carlson

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