Most Minnesotans believe 'grocery gap' limits access to healthy food, survey finds


An increasing number of Minnesotans believe that not everyone has access to healthy food options, with the lack of grocery stores in greater Minnesota playing a factor in what people choose to eat, a survey released Monday shows.

The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota highlighted the "grocery gap" (also called food deserts) in Minnesota, noting more than one-third of those surveyed must travel at least 10 minutes to shop at a full-service grocery store – and that includes a proportionate number of senior citizens and lower-income families, who may also be struggling with reliable transportation to get to the grocery store.

For those who live outside the Twin Cities, the drive to the grocery store increases. In greater Minnesota, 40 percent of people reported traveling more than 10 minutes to shop at a full-service grocery store. Meanwhile, many in more rural areas say the trip to buy food is more than 30 minutes, the survey found.

The issue of "grocery gaps" and "food deserts" has been a hot topic as of late due to the changing landscape of the grocery store market in Minnesota and nationwide, with many independent grocery stores in rural communities being forced to close.

A 2012 study found more than 360,000 Minnesotans have limited access to food. University of Minnesota research echoes with similar results, finding that access to fruits and vegetables is limited, is of poor quality or is more expensive in lower-income and rural areas of the state.

Who is responsible for closing the grocery gap?

“We hear a growing desire for more access to healthy food in Minnesota communities, schools and workplaces, but there are varying perspectives regarding who is responsible for making these positive changes a reality," Janelle Waldock, director of the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, said in a news release.

Blue Cross's survey found a majority of those polled say retailers, individuals and schools are somewhat responsible for creating a healthier food environment, while a smaller amount cite the government (39 percent), nonprofits and social service agencies (27 percent) and employers (22 percent).

Some efforts are already underway to close the grocery gap around the state.

The Minnesota Food Charter – a group of state organizations, including the state Department of Health – helps identify barriers to healthy food access and recommends policy and system changes to help resolve them. Some of these strategies will be shared at the Food Access Summit, which is being held in Duluth in November.

On a more local level, some towns, after losing their local markets, have turned to food cooperatives and other initiatives to provide more options and eliminate food deserts.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota notes Lakeshirts Inc. in Detroit Lakes, the Anach food co-op in Milan, and The Open Door Pantry in Eagan are among some community-driven solutions to help close the grocery gap.

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