One of 10 Arizonans have limited access to healthy foods because there isn’t a grocery store nearby or they lack transportation to get healthy food. Eating healthy may be easier than you think which is critical to your health. A recent study shows approximately 65 percent of Arizona residents are overweight and are susceptible to chronic conditions that may be avoidable. Of the many challenges families face, one large one is having a reliable and healthy food source nearby.
“It’s not just rural areas of Arizona that have limited access to healthy food choices. It’s inner-city and urban areas as well – typically with elderly or low-income families,” said Melanie Albert, a certified health coach and cooking expert who partners with Gregory’s Fresh Market, and travels the state bringing fresh foods and education to many people living in food deserts. Gregory’s Fresh Market is a one-aisle, mobile produce market that travels to senior communities on a regular basis to deliver fresh, whole foods.
“Food deserts are areas where buying good quality, affordable, fresh food from farmers markets or grocery stores isn’t easy. Either there are limited options or no transportation options available, so people must do their food shopping at convenience stores. This leads to food insecurity, in which people can’t rely on accessing healthy produce on a consistent basis.”
According to the USDA, Maricopa Country, Arizona's largest county, contains 55 food deserts and over one million (15.8 percent) Arizonans are considered ‘food insecure’ according to Feed America.
Albert, an intuitive cooking expert, author, and speaker, is Founder and CEO of Experience Nutrition Group, LLC, in Phoenix, Arizona and author of “A New View of Healthy Eating: Simple Intuitive Cooking with Real Whole Foods.” She’s been traveling with Gregory’s for six years now, and has seen the number of people facing food insecurity grow.
“Poor diet can lead to a number of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and osteoarthritis – just to name a few. So much of our current diet is made of foods that cause inflammation, which we are discovering, is really the underlying reason for many avoidable health concerns. Add in stress, smoke, pollution, and the risks increase,” Albert said.
Arizona’s geographical diversity and rapid population growth add to the complexity of this problem. Currently, more than 28.2 percent of Arizona children are living with food insecurity. This leads to common health difficulties, emotional development and learning challenges.
“Lack of proper nutrition and the rise of chronic conditions leads to more medical care, which taxes our entire healthcare system. Arizona’s healthcare spend is more than $43 billion and growing, this just isn’t sustainable in over the long-run,” said Jennifer Kaufman, Vice President of Marketing at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.
“The lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables and the know-how to make good nutritional decisions can lead to problems such as diabetes or obesity.”
That is one reason why in September, Governor Ducey proclaimed November 4-11 to be “Nourishing Arizona Week.” In an inclusive partnership with the state, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona aims to educate people not only about healthy eating habits, but also the importance of accessibility to healthy choices.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona is working with organizations across the state to help Arizonans meet their basic nutritional needs and equip them to make better decisions about what they eat or prepare for their families.
The week begins with a Sugar Swap (link to related story), encouraging consumers to turn in sugary foods in exchange for “Healthy Bucks” to buy healthy food at the Phoenix Uptown Farmers Market.
“Our desire to help Arizonans inspired us to pursue Nourishing Arizona Week—kicking it off with Sugar Swap. We believe it is our responsibility to educate Arizonans how everyday decisions can influence how you feel today and in years to come,” said Kaufman.
Healthy food can be expensive no matter where you live - but it is especially challenging for those with a limited income. There are many Arizonans living at or below the Federal Poverty Level, which is $40,800 for a family of four. A staggering 1 in 3 Arizonans, or 2.02 million individuals, are considered working poor.
BCBSAZ made the commitment, along with the Association of Arizona Food Banks, Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, Fresh Express, United Way, Gregory’s Fresh Market and more to help these individuals. You can make a difference, too by learning more about the problems our state faces and the resources available.
Albert suggests several solutions for taking small steps toward healthy eating and helping others do the same:
BCBSAZ and partners also offer several ways to get educated about food choices and get involved. Visit NourishingArizona.com for more information.
Nov. 4 - Attend Sugar Swap event at the Phoenix Uptown Farmers Market
Gather up your sugary foods (with 7 grams of sugar or more) and swap them out for $5 worth of fresh produce. link
Nov. 6 - Celebrate the third Birthday Bash of Meet Me Downtown. This weekly walk/run downtown promotes Phoenix’s vibrant downtown community and encourages physical activity. BCBSAZ is a founding sponsor of the event. The first 100 people to bring sugary foods to the Nov. 6 Birthday Bash will receive $5 in produce bucks to be used at the Fresh Express mobile produce market that day.
Nov. 9 – Check out, an afternoon of Nutrition and Healthy Eating will be offered at Tanner Terrace Senior Care Center to residents of that community.
Nov. 11 – Visit a farmer’s market. Arizona Girl Scouts troops will be supporting Nourishing Arizona booths at Farmer’s Market’s in rural communities. The first 100 people to visit these Nourishing Arizona booths will receive $5 in produce bucks good for fruits and vegetables at the markets listed below.
Peoria Farmers Market at Park West (Momma's Organic Market)
Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
9744 W. Northern Ave. (west valley, Peoria)
Heirloom Farmers Market – Oro Valley (Tucson)
Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
10901 N. Oracle Road
Oro Valley, AZ 85737
Prescott Farmers Market
Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC)
930 Division Street, Prescott, AZ
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