While many Americans are making improvements to their diet and eating healthier than previous generations, under-resourced families and individuals continue to face significant challenges when it comes to accessing healthy food.
From food deserts to rising costs to a lack of education, barriers to healthy food access remain prevalent in communities around the country, and are linked with chronic disease, increased mental health challenges, and higher medical costs.
National Food is Medicine Day, celebrated on September 14 this year, was launched as a way to raise awareness of these issues, and help break down the barriers to healthy food access experienced by millions of people across the U.S.
While the day’s activities focus primarily on encouraging action in both the public and private sector, there are a number of ways you can get involved and work towards increased access to healthy food for all.
What is National Food is Medicine Day?
National Food is Medicine Day was launched in 2021 by Food Equality Initiative (FEI), an organization committed to ending hunger in the food allergy and celiac disease community. More recently, FEI has broadened its scope to include all diet-treated illnesses and conditions, fully embracing the Food is Medicine movement.
The goal of National Food is Medicine Day is to call attention to embedded barriers to healthy food access for under-resourced people, including the challenges faced by those diagnosed with food allergies, celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease, hypertension, and more.
Through calls to action and greater awareness, National Food is Medicine Day focuses on widening access to healthy food, breaking down barriers, and increasing nutrition security for those who need it most.
The Barriers to Healthy Food Access
Access to healthy food remains a challenge for millions of Americans as they navigate hurdles such as rising costs and a lack of healthy food options.
Food deserts and swamps
While a food desert is an area in which healthy food options are unavailable, a food swamp describes a place inundated with unhealthy food, like convenience stores or fast food restaurants. In both, access to nutritious food is limited, making it difficult to maintain a healthy diet.
Cost of fresh vs. manufactured food
Fresh food, which is typically more nutritious than processed food, is often more expensive too. While the cost is felt by all consumers, higher prices are a specific barrier to healthy food access for under-resourced families and individuals.
Added expense of special (and critical) dietary needs
Taking into account the added expense of gluten-free or allergen-specific foods, the high cost of healthy food can become a serious medical factor for people with special or even critical dietary needs.
Lack of education
When people know more about nutritious food and its connection to wellness, they make healthier choices. However, access to nutritional education continues to present a challenge in under-resourced communities.
Find out more about the barriers to healthy food on FEI’s website.
Food is Medicine: Building a Healthier Diet With Leafy Greens
While the Food is Medicine movement embraces many nutritious foods that can improve overall health, leafy greens are among the most beneficial additions to any healthy diet.
Leafy greens are packed with vitamins and minerals, and can reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cognitive decline.
Best of all, many leafy greens are affordably-priced, providing a low-cost option for anyone trying to build a healthier diet.
As an example, the wholesale price of lettuce in the U.S, is currently around $0.72 per pound, and it can be used in a wide variety of meals. Lettuce offers a ton of health benefits, providing an excellent source of hydration, improved vision and bone health, and even better sleep.
Similarly, the average cost of cabbage is around $0.73 per pound, it’s packed with nutrients, and can be used in many delicious ways. The same is true for fresh spinach, which averages $1.35 per pound and is jam-packed with goodness. In addition to providing a ton of vitamins and minerals, spinach can also support the immune system and ease inflammation.
Food is Medicine, for All
This National Food is Medicine Day, remember that healthy food access remains a challenge for many Americans every day, and even small efforts can help make an impact.
Improving the availability and affordability of nutritious food, and helping widen access to nutritional education are just a few of the ways we can all ensure food is medicine, for everyone, every day.