By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Studies indicate people who live in poverty have less access to fresh fruits and vegetables, adding to the state’s obesity problem.
To combat that problem, the Legislature is considering the Healthy Food Retail Act that would put mechanisms in place to help locate healthy food outlets, such as farmer’s markets, in underserved areas of the state.
More than likely, the legislation is heading to conference where House and Senate leaders will hammer out a final version. The Senate has voted to name the act the Bennie L. Turner Healthy Food Retail Act.
Turner, D-West Point, served in the state Senate from 1993 until his death in November.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, who authored the amendment to name the act after Turner, described it “as a fitting tribute” because Turner had authored similar legislation in past sessions and “he was a strong advocate for people eating as healthy as possible, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the goal of the legislation is to create within the Mississippi Development Authority a program to locate loans and grants to attract fresh fruit outlets, especially farmers’ markets, to poor communities that often are referred to as “food deserts” because of the lack of grocery stores that provide fresh, healthy foods. Such food deserts can be found in both rural and urban areas, Tollison said. They are particularly prevalent in the Mississippi Delta.
The legislation does not include any state funding at this time.
According to research by the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, which was part of the Mississippi Grocery Access Task Force that studied the lack of healthy food options, the state spent $925 million in 2008 on obesity-related health care costs. The figure is expected to balloon to $3.9 billion by 2018 if the trends are not reversed, according to research from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We understand the obesity epidemic will not be solved by a magic bullet,” Sandra Shelson, executive director of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi said earlier this session. “The approach to the epidemic must be a comprehensive one that mirrors the work in tobacco prevention.
“Access to fresh and healthy foods is one element to solving this epidemic.”