The Institute for Public Health Innovation and the Place Matters Policy Team of the Port Towns Community Health Partnership (PTCHP) applaud the Prince George’s County Council endorsement of a Food Equity Council. A resolution passed on July 9th notes the legislative body “expressly supports and endorses the formation of the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council” to develop and support policies and practices for improving the County’s food system. This initiative is funded and supported with technical assistance from the Institute for Public Health Innovation through a Community Transformation Grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Across the country and in our backyard, food policy councils like this Food Equity Council are bringing together government, community, non-profit, business, and other leaders to think creatively about how to address hunger, health, the environment, and the local economy through increased availability of healthy, affordable and fresh food,” explains David Harrington, Senior Advisor to the PTCHP, a program funded by Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States.
“With more than one in eight people in Prince George’s County struggling to afford enough food, we need to think broadly and creatively to address both affordability and access” said Laura Flamm, Nutrition Associate with Maryland Hunger Solutions. “Federal nutrition programs, including the Food Supplement Program and free and reduced priced school meals, are powerful tools for promoting health, nutrition, and local economic development. Through the work of the Food Equity Council, we will be able to expand the reach and impact of these programs.”
Three out of five County children receive free or reduced-price meals at school, and household participation in the Food Supplement Program (federally known as SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) has more than doubled in the last five years, reflecting the economic downturn and increased unemployment and low-wage jobs.
“We want to reverse the systemic lack of access to healthy foods in our County, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables are often only available in higher income areas, miles from where the majority of people work, study and live. As a result, too many of us are left to rely on nearby, less healthy, and often more expensive options, such as highly processed food,” says Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, CEO of ECO City Farms, and core member of the PTCHP.
Factors such as access, affordability and availability of healthy food directly impact community health. Prince George’s County has some of the most challenging health data in Maryland, with 70 percent of the adult population either overweight or obese. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Maryland Vital Statistics Annual Report 2011, the age-adjusted death rate for Prince George’s County ranked third in diabetes and eighth in heart diseases among 24 Maryland jurisdictions. In both cases, the county had disproportionately higher rates than the State (28.6 versus 20.4 deaths per 100,000 population for diabetes and 203.5 versus 181.6 per 100,000 population for heart diseases).
“Of utmost importance in addressing chronic disease is creating community-based strategies for growing food close to the people who eat it,” says Morgan-Hubbard. As mentioned in the Resolution: “[the] mission of the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council is to significantly improve food security and community well-being of all who live, work, study, worship and play in the County.”
The taskforce that is working to launch the Food Equity Council is chaired by Maryland Hunger Solutions and is a collaboration between ECO City Farms, the Institute for Public Health Innovation, Maryland Hunger Solutions, Prince George’s County Planning Department, the Prince George’s County Health Department, and University of Maryland Extension – Prince George’s County.
By addressing the multiple layers of the food system, from production and processing, to distribution, consumption and waste management, the Food Equity Council will examine food policy, including strategies such as financing incentives for attracting grocery stores in low-income communities, alternative retail approaches like community supported agriculture, and innovative local production through urban farming and organic growing.