More than 23 million Americans don't have quick access to healthy food, but legislation in Indiana aims to change that. (Veronica Carter)

More than 23 million Americans don’t have quick access to healthy food, but legislation in Indiana aims to change that. (Veronica Carter)

January 13, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana has many areas where residents live 10 or more miles from a supermarket that sells fresh food and Indianapolis has been named the worst in the nation for these so-called “food deserts.”

Logansport Sen. Randy Head has authored a bill to give grants to businesses that want to sell healthier choices. He says it will help eliminate food deserts.

“For instance, if a convenience store wants to get coolers to offer fresh produce, this kind of thing would help them buy the coolers,” says Head. “They’ll be evaluated annually to make sure they’re doing what they say they’re going to do with the money and it’s got a claw-back in it, so if they’re not doing what they say they’re going to be doing or what they should be doing with it, they owe all that money back to the state.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says more than 23 million Americans live at least 10 miles away from supermarkets that offer fresh meat, dairy and produce, and more than half of those people are low-income.

Head says food deserts can be found all over the state, and they’re not just in the cities.

“You know, when people hear the term ‘food desert’ they automatically think of urban, but in Indiana and Illinois as well, a lot of food deserts are rural,” he says. “We’ve got them all over the state of Indiana, in many different types of communities.”

Senate Bill 15 requires the funds be used for equipment, infrastructure or property. Head says it’s based on a program in Pennsylvania where for every dollar invested, the grants resulted in $1.50 of economic development and improved quality of life in communities.

University of Arkansas Professor Randy Nayga is doing research in his state on children who live in food deserts. He says their average Body Mass Index is higher than kids from homes closer to stores that offer fresh food. He says researchers are looking at which stores children lived near, and also whether they have a chance to play outdoors and get exercise, because that matters, too.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service – IN