The American Heart Association joined other health advocates, NC lawmakers, airmen, and members of the faith community at the North Carolina Museum of History on June 1 to pray, eat, and discuss improving access to healthy food across the state through the healthy corner store initiative.
A diverse group of speakers took to the stage: Bishop Hope Ward of the United Methodist Church, Colonel Paul Conner, Commander of the 4th Medical Group at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, local farmer Larry Newlin of Peaceful River Farm, and Representative Yvonne Holley from Raleigh.
Over 1.5 million North Carolina residents live in food deserts, communities where healthy food is not accessible or affordable. Limited access to healthy food adversely impacts diet and health and is one of the fundamental risk factors of obesity, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some kinds of cancer.
Tell your lawmakers today to include full funding for the healthy corner store initiative in the state budget.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the United Methodist Church led those assembled in prayer, reading scripture focused on the connection between food access and living a full and complete life.
"Obesity is a crisis in our state," said Larry Newlin of Peaceful River Farm. "By helping put fresh, local food into corner stores, as well as ensuring stores have the equipment to stock the foods and the tools to market the foods to their customers, we create markets for farmers, like myself, and ensure that communities will have access to healthy, local options," he stated.
According to Colonel Conner, "Our warfighters don’t perform to a level that no other armed forces have ever seen in the history of the world because they are just lucky. We are able to do so because of our deliberate, multi-disciplinary and multi-factorial approach to education and training – and this is no different when it comes to our personal fitness and health."
Yet the military faces the same public health crisis affecting the rest of the country, he warned. "The Department of Defense has experienced periods where over four thousand five hundred warfighters had to be discharged, each year, for failing to meet our weight standards."
Representative Yvonne Holley, primary sponsor on the bill that would establish the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, encouraged the group to keep up efforts to bring healthy food to food deserts. "We have a problem in our state and I encourage you all to keep working to make a difference," she said.
The NC House’s version of the state budget contains a $300,000 appropriation for the Healthy Corner Store Initiative. The Senate version of the budget does not contain any funding for the program. Budget conferees will begin meeting in the coming weeks to iron out the differences between the two legislative chambers. "We are hopeful the General Assembly will fully fund this important Initiative in this year’s budget," said Morgan Wittman Gramann, Managing Director of the NC Alliance for Health.
The initiative works to make healthy foods more accessible by bringing healthy, local foods into small stores in areas that need them most.
Prayer breakfast organizers gather around a food desert map of NC:
Healthy food access advocates enjoy breakfast during the event: