Why we are committed to this work
The CDC reports that 30% of Michigan residents are obese and another 36% are overweight. In communities of color, obesity hits harder: 37% of African Americans and 31% of Hispanics are obese relative to 26% of Whites. This tragic trend is amplified among children nationally, where one in three is overweight or obese, and almost 40% of children in African American and Hispanic communities are overweight or obese.
In the effort to more deeply understand the obesity epidemic, a growing body of research points to one’s relative proximity to healthy food retail versus unhealthy food retail as a major contributor to obesity. In 2013, as part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, the USDA released the Food Access Research Atlas, a comprehensive county-level data compilation that works to define and quantify populations with low access to affordable healthy foods.
Among our four target counties’ (Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe) 4.02 million people, 1.06 million, or 23.5%, live in areas of low access. 20% of those individuals living in areas of low access, or 207,135 people, are also low income.
Many large-scale interventions rely on big-box retail to solve the problem; however, high cost infrastructures require new grocery stores to locate in more dense and affluent areas, which only superficially address the problem. While grocery stores offer exciting economic development tools, they typically do not address the core problems of (sub)urban sprawl and poor public transportation. These issues are particularly poignant among children and seniors, who have limited access to private transportation and often rely on others for basic transportation needs.
On the flip side of the same coin, a 2007 landmark report by Mari Galagher demonstrates that a more important indicator than food access is “food balance,” which tells us how easy or difficult it is to choose between healthy and unhealthy food retail on a daily basis. This makes the upward trend of fast food restaurants per capita especially alarming within the four target counties. Among the four counties, there are .70 fast food restaurants / 1000 population versus .57 statewide and .58 nationally. The rate of increase is perhaps more alarming with an 8.59% increase between 2007 and 2012 versus 5.37% statewide and 1.18% nationally.
Socioeconomic factors and pre-existing health conditions make things worse. In Detroit, 49% of families and 56% of children live in poverty. 31.4% of Detroiters report health as “poor” or “fair” compared to 17.2% across the state. 14.6% of adult Detroiters have diabetes compared to 10.4% across the state. 18% of Detroiters report poor mental health compared to 12.6% across the state. 42.9% of Detroiters report high blood pressure compared to 34.4% across the state.