TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The latest report by Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute & government watchdog, finds that food deserts are taking a serious toll on our residents. The report finds that more than 23.5 million people throughout the United States are in areas deemed food deserts—places that lack access to healthy food options—and that people living in these areas are more likely to be obese and have health complications.
“The path to having great health and a long and prosperous life begins with smart nutrition. Unfortunately, many Floridians do not have access to healthy foods, because they live in an area without a full-service grocer or don’t have reliable transportation to get to one,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Those who live in food deserts don't have the opportunity to make healthy food choices and are at risk for serious diet-related health problems. Due to this and other factors, Florida spends an estimated $6.7 billion each year treating obesity-related diseases.”
The report notes that Florida ranks 33rd in the country in the overall health of its residents, with more than 26.2 percent of Floridians being obese, 7th in the country. Much of this is exacerbated by the number of food deserts in the state. TaxWatch research found that many low-income neighborhoods frequently lack access to grocery stores or farmers markets and many areas are swamped with fast-food restaurants and convenience stores that offer unhealthy, high calorie foods that are nutritionally lacking.
TaxWatch also notes that food deserts also harm local economies, with a lack of grocers decreasing property values and suppressing the job market. The report finds that grocers are often anchors stores for other retail businesses and create dozens of local jobs. Additionally, the presence of a grocer boosts property values which make the area more attractive for economic development.
March is Nutrition Month, a nice reminder that eating healthier can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and other diseases. Policymakers should consider exploring options for expanding the availability of healthy foods in food deserts to increase the health of all Floridians, reduce the cost burden on the health care system and expand local property tax bases.
“Without access to healthy food, good health is not possible,” said A. Wayne Rich, Of Counsel in the Orlando office of Broad and Cassel and Chair of the American Heart Association State Advocacy Committee. “That is why the American Heart Association is supporting legislation in Tallahassee that would help small corner stores operating in food deserts develop the infrastructure needed to market and sell fresh produce and other heart healthy options.”
“Food deserts are of concern to the Legislature and I am proud to have worked on this issue in the past. In order to continue to make Florida a vibrant place to live, we must ensure that our residents are healthy and have access to nutritional food options,” said Senator Aaron Bean, who represents Florida Senate District 4. “I’m pleased Florida TaxWatch is shining a spotlight on this critical issue.”
“The lack of access to healthy food options has affected my district and many other areas of Florida. Without access to healthy foods, people become less productive, children don’t do as well in school and the health of our residents falters,” said Representative Larry Lee, who represents Florida House District 84. “Addressing the issue of food deserts is critical to long-term success of our state and those who live here.”
Read the full report here