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Communities around the country are looking to promote healthier eating by encouraging urban agriculture. "Urban agriculture" is an umbrella term encompassing a wide range of activities involving the raising, cultivation, processing, marketing, and distribution of food in urban areas. In many communities, urban agriculture takes the form of backyard gardens and community gardens - places on public or private property where neighbors gather to cultivate vegetables and fruits, and even keep bees or raise poultry and small livestock. The food in community gardens is typically grown for the gardeners' own consumption or donation. Urban agriculture also encompasses urban farms (also called "market gardens" or "entrepreneurial agriculture") - enterprises, both for- and nonprofit, that grow produce on a larger or more intensive scale for sale.
After increasing steadily for decades, the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off. This policy brief examines reports from across the country to learn more about where progress is being made to address childhood obesity.
Over the last two decades childhood obesity has risen at an alarming rate in the United States. In 1999, 13 percent of children ages six to 11 and 14 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 19 were overweight. This prevalence has nearly tripled. Now, the number of overweight children in the nation exceeds 12 million. Evidence shows that children who enter adulthood obese are unlikely to shed the burden. And they also have a higher risk of premature death and disability in adulthood. Sedentary behavior is partly to blame. Forty-three percent of adolescents watch more than two hours of television each day, according to a federal report. But excessive screen time - whether it's the TV or computer - is only one obstacle that limits children's ability to obtain the one hour of daily exercise recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General. The built environment surrounding a child's neighborhood and school can also help or hinder physical activity. Research shows that children who live closer to parks and recreational facilities are more active than those who live further away. And active living, along with eating nutritious foods, plays a key role in maintaining a healthy weight.
For millions of Americans, accessing healthy food is no easy matter. In low-income communities, liquor stores and gas stations proliferate, while farmers' markets are hard to find. Nationally, 11.5 million low-income people live in low-income areas where the nearest supermarket is more than one mile away. Although areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food (known as food deserts) have great demand for healthy food, traditional financial institutions - like regional or national banks - often are reluctant to invest in food retail development projects in these areas. At the same time, development costs are often higher in underserved urban and rural communities. Bringing healthy food to food deserts requires tenacity, ingenuity, and a significant investment of capital. Financing healthy food retail development often means combining private dollars with grants and loans from government agencies. These public resources can reduce risks associated with private capital investment in low-income communities.
Since 2000, the number of farmers markets across the United States has increased 80% to reach over 5,000 by 2010. Farmers markets seem to be popping up everywhere: they can be found in neighborhood parking lots, at bus and train stops, and even in front of hospitals. Their popularity is testament to the multiple benefits they bring to customers, vendors, and communities: stimulating economic growth and job opportunity, revitalizing downtowns, creating active spaces, and helping to preserve farmland and minimize sprawl. Farmers markets are not only great community places and excellent shopping destinations; they are also key ingredients in our country's fight to combat diet-related illness such as diabetes and heart disease, and are increasingly being developed to reach lower-income customers. Indeed, the power of markets to bring together diverse types of people and to serve all income levels makes them ideal venues to promote public health.
As has been widely reported, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of farmers markets in the United States in the last ten years from some 1,755 markets in 1994 to 4,385 in 2006. Over three million consumers shop weekly at these markets, where an estimated 30,000 small to mid-sized farm operations and food entrepreneurs earn a partial or full living selling their local products. USDA has projected roughly $1 billion in annual consumer spending in urban, suburban and rural farmers markets. This remarkable increase has been made possible because of the groundswell of interest in farmers markets at the community level. Grassroots organizations - churches, downtown associations, chambers of commerce and community food activists - are increasingly becoming market organizers and/or sponsors, and are expanding to new locations and communities. Today, farmers markets vary in size from a few vendors to many hundred, with management ranging from a vendor-volunteer to a professional management team. Farmers markets are located in economically, ethnically and socially diverse neighborhoods and, increasingly, are gearing their efforts toward improving access to fresh food for all community members. This has included a growing number of farmers markets that accept FMNP coupons and EBT/Food Stamps.
We've done a great job developing technology and labor saving machines, which unfortunately has produced a population that is disconnected from nature and sedentary. Our fondness of sitting is reflected in growing rates of obesity, diabetes, and chronic pain. One of the best things we can do to help people become more physically active is to give them public, open spaces where they can move their bodies. This document provides ideas for cities to reconsider existing public spaces and existing park furniture as exercise equipment. This is a low-cost, high-reward strategy to bring residents together in a public space and demonstrate a cultural commitment to holistic well-being. Cities can begin to think of parks as a way to provide access to the natural world, and a place where people can connect with their own physical bodies and each other.
A child's health is a key predictor for his or her future success and well-being. Unfortunately, far too many children face barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential because of where they live, learn and play. The inequitable distribution of social, economic and environmental resources across communities - often called the social determinants of health - create challenges for healthy living. Socioeconomic conditions (e.g., concentrated poverty), access to health care and transportation options, educational and employment opportunities, and aesthetic elements (e.g., green spaces and vibrant public spaces) result in differences in opportunities and exposure to health-promoting resources such as child care, high performing schools, affordable housing, access to healthy food and safe spaces for physical activity. The availability and quality of these neighborhood resources and services have a major impact on the ability of children and families to make choices that support healthy growth and development. When children and families have access to these resources and services, children have more opportunities to thrive. On the contrary, children growing up in communities that lack these often suffer poorer health outcomes than their peers. These differences in health are known as health disparities.
Bringing a grocery store into an underserved neighborhood not only makes fresh produce and other healthy food more accessible, it can provide livingwage jobs, raise the value of surrounding property, and anchor and attract additional businesses to the neighborhood. A wide range of public, private, and nonprofit organizations work to support projects - like grocery store development - that help build a healthy economy. This guide is designed to help advocates and public health agencies coordinate and leverage tools available through local government and other organizations to bring healthy food options into low-income communities. Economic development refers to a range of activities that help build and sustain a healthy economy.
Local governments can promote healthy eating and active living in their communities by supporting local farmers' markets. Local farmers' markets provide fresh produce to community residents, support small farmers, serve as community gathering places, and revitalize community centers and downtown areas.