It’s one thing to argue that people need better access to healthy and affordable food and that access is key to improving health, including among economically challenged communities who suffer from some of the nation’s most significant health inequities. But it is another to make that problem and those people more than faceless statistics on a piece of paper, especially for policymakers. Health advocates in Ohio took that challenge head on and as a result made significant gains in creating and funding a Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) in that state.
Several years ago, The Food Trust completed a mapping project, which showed the communities in Ohio that had the greatest need related to access to healthy and affordable foods. That map provided health advocates in the Buckeye state with the data they needed to argue for establishing and funding a program that would provide support for HFFI.
“The mapping project was a great first step,” says Cresha Auck Foley, the American Heart Association’s grassroots director for Ohio and Pennsylvania. “But we needed to do something else to bring decision makers and Ohioans along to support the HFFI.”
First, Auck-Foley and her colleagues produced a video that not only highlighted the problem of food access in Ohio, but also potential solutions. The video, which was broadly shown and distributed, featured a county in southeast Ohio with a large aging population that must travel 30 miles in any direction to access a store selling healthy food. The video also featured a grocery chain in Cleveland that is successfully closing the food access gap in diverse neighborhoods. The video was supplemented with one-page stories of individuals and the challenges related to healthy food access. Those one pagers were turned into story cards that were handed out to decision makers, the news media and other stakeholders.
“The video and the cards brought the map to life. They became the starting points for conversations on HFFI,” says Auck-Foley.
The effort to attach faces and stories to the food access problem in Ohio proved highly effective. Not only did the Legislature create the program, they provided an initial $2 million in funding. Already, 19 applicants for funding have been pre-certified in Ohio, showing high demand for this program.
“When we talk about issues such as access to healthy foods, if folks don’t see the problem personally it’s hard for them to understand the issue,” says Auck-Foley. “That’s why sometimes we need to take people out of their world and into other people’s lives to show the need for solutions.”