A FARM BILL THAT NOURISHES COMMUNITIES
This year Congress will renew the Farm Bill that governs farm and food policies. These policies directly impact what we eat and strongly influence our overall health and wellness. Renewal of the bill provides us with opportunities to shift more support to food growers that will in turn significantly reduce childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Reduction in these diet-related illness mean reduction of the hundreds of billions dollar cost to health care spending.
The Farm Bill dictates the way we structure payments to farms and the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) providing food stamps for nearly 46 million people living at or below the federal poverty line. Federal nutrition programs like SNAP go a long way towards reducing hunger, but they accomplish much less by way of ensuring a healthy, well-balanced diet. “Food deserts” are not always desolate places void of grocery retail. “Urban food deserts” are inner-city neighborhoods servicing high numbers SNAP recipients where calories are abundant, but access to affordable high quality nutritious food is limited. Families in these neighborhoods rely on 24-hour corner stores. Candy, processed foods, soda, and beer dominate prime shelf space in corner stores– leaving little room fresh produce, lean meats, and whole grains. As a consequence, many families relying on SNAP are forced to make difficult choices about their food purchases. Their purchasing power often goes further with process foods because fresh is more expensive. The end result in all food deserts is a food environment where the overwhelming majority of choices are preservative foods high in fat, calories, and sugar. The end result in our country is our residents suffer from the world’s highest rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diet-related illnesses. This is especially troubling since more than 50% of all SNAP participants in nutrition programs are children; the elderly represent an additional 17% of the vulnerable depending upon this assistance.3]Dietary habits form early in life and tend to last a lifetime. Rates of obesity and other diet-related health conditions are soaring, and the medical costs associated with obesity have risen to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Thus, nutrition programs need to make greater efforts to enable low-income families to overcome barriers to purchasing healthy foods. In it's current form, commodity producers growing corn and soy--mainly used for high fructose corn syrup, fillers, and animal feed--receive nearly 95% of the Farm Bill's $41.6 billion payments to growers. Farmers growing the foods that nourish our community receive only 5%.
COST OF KEEPING THE STATUS QUO
Food insecurity costs us nearly $120 billion each year in healthcare to preventable diet-related illnesses (diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease). Current rates of childhood obesity suggest that vulnerable children will not live as long as their parents. The Farm Bill legislation that will be considered by Congress has the potential to impact childhood obesity and other diet-related illnesses in food desert areas identified as having poor access to affordable healthy food. Diabetes itself affects an estimated 25.8 million U.S. adults – over 8 percent of the population. Left untreated, diabetes can cause blindness and end stage renal disease. It also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 2 to 4 fold and is the seventh leading cause of death for Americans. The diabetes hospitalization rates in 2009 were 17.7 per 10,000 residents. Communities with poor to limited access to health care, as well as affordable healthy food and nutritional education are estimated to have three times the hospitalization rate of the entire population. In all of our communities the incidence of childhood obesity has increased, and lack of access to good nutrition have contributed to our national problems. 
Studies confirm that people buy food that is readily available in their community. Research also demonstrates that improving access to healthy food significantly increases consumption of fruits and vegetables. Despite this good data, the economic reality is that many families do not have access to enough affordable fresh produce. Recent reports like It’s Dinnertime: A Report on Low-Income Families’ Efforts to Plan, Shop for and Cook Healthy Meals show that although 85 percent of the families surveyed say that healthy eating is important, only about half are managing to eat healthy meals most days. With one in three Americans living in or near poverty, and record numbers heavily relying on food stamps, many low-income Americans feel challenged to afford healthy meals. Addressing childhood obesity through increasing affordable access to healthy meals while also increasing education and exposure to good nutrition practices will impact illness numbers and drive down long-term health costs. Everyone wins − the individuals impacted by these chronic diseases, their communities-- and the even cost of health care provided to federal, state and local governments and employers themselves. Help us spread the word to Congress:
1) The Farm Bill Advocacy Toolkit contains talking points, the electronic petition, visual media, data, reports, and other selected educational materials crafted to help you stay on message with any audience --national or neighborhood.
2) Sign the 2012 Farm Bill Petition urging congress to enact a 2012 Farm Bill that restores health and wholeness to our food system.
 Source: CRS Report R41195, Actual Farm Bill Spending and Cost Estimates, based on CBO estimates.
 Source: Center for Farmland Policy and Innovation, Healthy Corner Stores: A Best Practices Brief, 2011
 Source:CRS Report R41195, Actual Farm Bill Spending and Cost Estimates, based on CBO estimates.
 Source: Share Our Strength, It’s Dinnertime: A Report on Low-Income Families’ Efforts to Plan, Shop for and Cook Healthy Meals, 2011
 Source: Stone, Campbell and Esselstyn: Forks over Knives-The Plant-Based Way to Health, 2011.
 Source: Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council: PHC4, 2009
 Source: American Diabetes Association