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Helping nutrition take root in vulnerable communities

| Apr 14 2015

When you think of the factors that affect your health and life expectancy, your zip code is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.

However, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your zip code is a greater indicator of your health than your genetic code. At the Aetna Foundation, we view increasing access to healthy foods in underserved communities as a way to shift that trend neighborhood by neighborhood.

Today, 49 million Americans, including nearly 16 million children, live in food “insecure” households, where there is limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Approximately 23 million Americans live in low-income urban and rural neighborhoods more than one mile away from the nearest grocery store. We know that individuals in at-risk communities are already disproportionately affected by chronic diseases, and believe that lack of access to nutritious foods is a contributing factor. That’s why we support the creation and expansion of community gardens, urban farms and farmers markets in underserved communities.

In addition to making healthy foods available, accessible and affordable, these programs allow people of all ages to come together to plan and nurture gardens, take part in farming activities and visit farmers markets where a wide variety of nutritious foods are available.

There are simple steps you can take on your own to bring nutritious foods to your family:

  • Get your children involved – Bring your kids with you to help pick out seeds and let them help you take care of them. This gets them invested and excited about what you’re doing.
  • Start small – You can still have a garden even if you don’t have a yard. You can use hanging baskets and plastic pots to grow your plants outside, and even plant fresh herbs inside.
  • Pick “Easy Growers” – Start with fresh herbs and vegetables that are easy to grow such as cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans.
  • Find a garden in your neighborhood – Use resources such as the American Community Gardening Association to find a community garden near your home.
  • Check out your local farmers market – Convenient access to the right foods, like fresh produce, is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory can help you find fresh local produce.
  • Share your knowledge – Use your gardening skills to help your community by volunteering. You can find volunteer opportunities through your local parks department, through the Master Gardener program in your state, and through the American Community Gardening Association.
  • Ask for help – If these resources aren’t available in your community, encourage local 501(c)(3) non-profits and state and local government agencies to apply for grants.

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