Congress should check convenience stores

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(NNPA)—As we prepare to advocate for universal health care in the United States Senate one issue that impacts people’s health is the quality of food available to them.

Wealthy people tend to have better health in part due to their diet of quality foods. Conversely, poor peoples’ poor health is usually predicated on their choices in food.

garylflowers

One reality for poor people of all pigments is that they have less choices of good food in their neighborhoods. Unlike well-to-do neighborhoods with gourmet grocers and organic options, poor people must, in many cases, use convenience stores to purchase produce and meats. For most poor people of color high quality meats and produce is virtually non-existent.

 

The results are predictable.The consumption of healthy foods—particularly fresh produce—is a key element to disease prevention. Likewise, eating bad food has bad health results.

It does not take a “rocket scientist” to figure out the connection between diet and disease. The phrase, “you are what you eat” plays out every day in poor neighborhoods. Predictably, diabetes, high-blood pressure, and obesity plague poor neighborhoods, disproportionately African-American.

According to the Office of Minority Health, Black women are 70 percent more likely to be obese than White women; African-Americans are 30 percent more likely to have diabetes than Whites; and Black men are 30 percent more likely than their White counterparts to have heart disease.

Many of these maladies arise from poor diets. Poor diets arise from junk food. Convenience stores jack up Black diets by selling junk food. Convenience stores are central culprits in not only offering low-quality food products but also by jacking up their prices. On average, poor people pay a territory tax on food because of the perception of crime in low-income areas (of course low-income neighborhoods have more crime due to the lack of lack of jobs and capital, but I will save the subject for another column).

Research reveals that poor people pay as much as 20 percent more than the national average for food.

Some experts assert that such jacked up prices amount to $1,200 more for the poor. National chain grocery stores avoid poor neighborhoods as if poor people do not deserve high-quality food. Ten years ago I remember working on a “New Markets Initiative” project in 1999 with the RainbowPUSH Coalition to locate a Pathmark Grocery Store in Harlem, N.Y. At that time, no national grocery chain store existed in Harlem.

The reasons given were the perception of crime and the high cost of building. Our point was that such a store location would allow the national chain to do well by the residents of Harlem and do well by the business bottom line. Years later, the highest grossing Pathmark store in the nation was the one located in Harlem. So successful was the store that a second Pathmark was sited there.

Black communities have half as much access to chain supermarkets than White neighborhoods. Latinos have 30 percent less access to chain stores than Whites. The absence of national chain stores allows for small convenience stores predominantly in poor communities. Congress should enact legislation to end racial redlining in retail food stores by regulating convenience stores that sell junk food. For example, regulating junk food in the same manner that was done for tobacco and alcohol would go along way in reducing disease diets in Black communities. Why not require junk food producers in convenience stores to print warning labels reading, “Eating this product could lead to diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity.”

(Gary L. Flowers is executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum.)

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