Limited access to healthy foods is a statewide problem in Ohio, affecting an estimated 2 million residents. It not only affects urban neighborhoods in cities such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and others, it also impacts many rural communities including those in the southern Appalachian region of the state.
Advocates in Ohio seized on that fact and began to educate the public and decision makers on the need for a healthy food financing fund to help provide financing for local grocery stores to make available healthier foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force, made up of a group of nearly 50 leaders from the health, business, civic, government, grocery, philanthropic and other nonprofit sectors, worked for a year to identify policy recommendations to help address the healthy foods-access dilemma.
As part of its educational effort, the Task Force produced a widely publicized report entitled, “Food for Every Child: The Need for Healthy Food Financing in Ohio.” The report identified urban and rural areas across Ohio where healthy food retail development is needed most. It also noted the direct relationship between obesity in that state and a lack of access to healthy foods.
“Research shows that providing access to healthy foods and promoting healthy eating habits can help residents maintain a healthy weight and reduce diet-related diseases,” said Cresha Auck Foley, a Task Force member and director of government relations for the American Heart Association in Ohio. The American Heart Association also produced an educational video that was used to build support for a healthy foods financing program in Ohio.
Due to the work of the task force and health advocates, support for a healthy food financing fund grew quickly and was approved by the legislature. In late June, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed into law a budget that includes $2 million in seed capital to create a Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which will be a flexible grant and loan fund that will be administered through the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.