For safety net healthcare providers that see firsthand the debilitating effects of the overweight and obesity epidemic, the problem is even larger than an employee wellness plan. How can we hope to improve health outcomes if patients who live in LSAs are sent home with a simple admonishment to eat more greens?
It is not enough to restate to people the obvious fact that they need to eat healthier diets. Even armed with that knowledge, no person can follow that directive if they can't regularly and easily access the healthier food.
In April I spoke with Chip Johnson, the mayor of Hernando, MS, a city that was recently identified as one of the healthiest in the Magnolia State. Johnson is one of those innovative types who understands that a problem as big as the obesity epidemic can't be solved with one sweeping mandate.
Instead, Hernando has taken a long-term incremental approach towards improving the health of its residents with simple steps that include building more sidewalks and bike lanes, and improving access to healthier food. The city situated its farmers' market within walking distance of its poorest neighborhoods.
"We can't expect people to eat healthier and be healthier if they don't have access to those foods. So a farmers' market is one way to do that," Johnson told me. "And you have to make sure your farmers' market is in places that are within reach of your poorest communities, your underserved communities."
This is a good first step for healthcare organizations and community wellness advocates who find that they may have an LSA in their service area.
It is time to promote not just eating healthier food but access to healthier food.