The lack of good food options and over-proliferation of cheap, highly processed foods has serious health consequences for our population. In 2009, over 55 percent of adults, 40 percent of middle school students and 34 percent of toddlers were obese or overweight in L.A County, with obesity and diet related diseases disproportionately impacting low-income communities of color.. Moreover, in 2006, L.A. County spent $12 billion on health care costs and lost productivity associated with obesity and physical inactivity. Organizations that are tackling these issues come from many fields, including public health, urban planning and nutrition. They provide essential data and propose and either implement or advocate for policies and programs that target health-focused interventions. Improved health outcomes are the primary focus of the organizations listed below.
Advocates for Healthy Living
On a daily basis, over one million Los Angeles County residents face the enormous burden of being able to afford any food at all?much less good food. At the same time, for many of the same families, the consumption of too many cheap calories has fueled an obesity and diabetes epidemic. To address these issues, organizations involved with food security are working on strategies to improve the affordability of good, healthy food for all Angelenos. They direct attention and resources to Los Angeles’ hungriest residents who have been most failed by a broken food system. Food security organizations are actively involved in emergency food assistance programs, anti-poverty and anti-hunger campaigns, expanding the reach of existing food assistance programs, gathering and distributing surplus foods and food donations, improving the nutritional quality of food provided by emergency food assistance programs, as well as identifying innovative ways to connect food assistance to farmers’ markets and gleaning projects. Some of these groups are also working to improve and expand the Los Angeles Unified School District’s free food service programs.
Every neighborhood deserves to have good, healthy, high-quality and affordable food for optimal health. In many low-income neighborhoods, convenience stores and fast food restaurants are the main sources of food for the community; well-stocked supermarkets and healthy eateries can be very hard to find. There are a number of groups working to address the issues of good food accessibility and affordability in underserved neighborhoods. They examine the availability and cost of good food, utilize policy, economic development and community organizing tools to create positive change, and explore innovative policy solutions to transform these areas into healthy food retail environments. For example, the Community Market Conversion (CMC) Program run by the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA), strives to expand access in underserved neighborhoods to nutritious food and revitalize the neighborhood food environment by converting local convenience stores into healthy food markets. Another exciting example includes the launch of the Fresh Works Fund in 2011, led by the California Endowment, which makes over $200 million available to finance healthy food retail in underserved California neighborhoods.
School food programs present excellent opportunities to transform the way that children eat, while building a robust market for healthy, locally-grown food. The large size of the Los Angeles Unified School District means that even modest changes on an institutional level can benefit 678,000 K-12 students and 69,000 LAUSD employees,i while simultaneously boosting the demand for regional agricultural products. Organizations in the Good Food movement that focus on school food programs may take on a variety of goals. Students and parents can advocate for changes to school purchasing policies which encourage schools to use their buying power to expand the market for good food and to put better food options on cafeteria menus. Nutrition and culinary education programs can get kids excited about eating a variety of healthy foods so that they don’t always gravitate towards unhealthy options on the lunch line. School yard gardens can be excellent tools for teaching children about where food comes from, nutrition, ecology, and healthy eating habits. The gardens can also foster a positive a sense of community. Finally, formal “Farm-to-School” programs connect schools and students to local regional farms. Together, they mutually support serving healthy cafeteria meals, improving student nutrition, and providing agricultural, health and education opportunities.