NEBRASKA EXAMINES FOOD DESERT PROBLEM WITH NEW BILL
(Map from USDA showing food deserts in the U.S.)
Legislators in Nebraska are taking steps to address the massive food desert problem that currently plagues the state, as well as the rest of the country.
Sponsored by State Senator Matt Hansen (D-Lincoln), Legislative Resolution 595 would put forth an interim study to examine the topic of food deserts and issues relating to access healthy food in Nebraska.
According to the USDA, a food desert is defined as any part of the country lacking in fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually in impoverished areas or areas located far away from grocery stores, markets, or any other healthy food provider.
These regions are located all over the United States, with almost 23.5 million Americans meeting the distinction of being food insecure. The inability to find fresh, nutritious food is experienced by many low income families and they suffer greatly as a result. This often correlates in increased obesity/diabetes rates due to higher consumption of food items lacking in nutrition. Eventually, many of these individuals suffer from cardiovascular disease and higher mortality rates than individuals in non-food desert areas.
Nebraska contains several low-density rural populations that would be classified as food desert-areas. In many respects, it can be considered the quintessential example of a state crippled by this epidemic. The Rural Sociological Society examined this issue and found that in the United States, Nebraska faces one of the highest percentages of counties containing a food desert. This has forced legislators to examine possible solutions.
LR 595 would have four essential functions:
- Review relevant literature and consult experts in nutrition and other relevant fields to identify factors that limit access to healthy, affordable food choices within rural and urban communities and demographic groups
- Identify public and private initiatives that can stimulate investment in grocery and other food-sourcing enterprises that serve communities and populations that lack access to healthy food and that can otherwise mitigate barriers to accessing healthy food
- Compile a reference guide to public and private funding sources and state and federal economic development tools available to support public and private efforts to increase access to healthy food
- Examine the role of community organizations, economic development entities, local government agencies, and the private sector in expanding access to healthy food in underserved communities and populations and identify state interventions that can stimulate and support local efforts.
The bill was only introduced on March 29th, so it remains to be seen what action the Nebraska legislature will take on it. If it does move forward, the bill could provide a blueprint for other states on how to fix their own unique food desert problems.
You can learn more about the basics of the food desert problem here.