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CDC: Kids Lack Access to Healthy Food Choices

Study Shows Stores That Sell Healthy Food Aren't Accessible to Families

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 26, 2011 -- Limited access to healthy foods in most U.S. states may be making it more difficult to instill healthy eating habits in children and may be fueling the childhood obesity epidemic.

A new CDC report shows 32 states and the District of Columbia scored at or below the national average for the Modified Retail Food Environment Index, an indicator of access to retailers that sell healthy foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables.

Based on a range from zero (no food retailers that typically sell healthy food) to 100 (only food retailers that sell healthy food), the national average score was 10. The highest-scoring states were Montana and Maine, with scores of 16 and 15, respectively. Rhode Island and the District of Columbia ranked at the bottom of the index with scores of 5 and 4, respectively.

"To feed their children healthy food at home, parents must have ready access to stores that sell affordable, healthy food," says William Dietz, MD, PhD, director of CDC's division of nutrition, physical activity, and obesity, in a news release.

Availability of Healthy Food: State-by-State Scores

The scores for all 50 states and the District of Columbia on the Modified Retail Food Environment Index are:

Modified Retail Food Environment Index Score

U.S. National Average

10

Alabama

10

Alaska

6

Arizona

12

Arkansas

9

California

11

Colorado

11

Connecticut

6

Delaware

12

D.C.

4

Florida

10

Georgia

8

Hawaii

14

Idaho

13

Illinois

8

Indiana

10

Iowa

10

Kansas

10

Kentucky

10

Louisiana

9

Maine

15

Maryland

10

Massachusetts

7

Michigan

10

Minnesota

10

Mississippi

8

Missouri

10

Montana

16

Nebraska

10

Nevada

11

New Hampshire

9

New Jersey

8

New Mexico

12

New York

8

North Carolina

11

North Dakota

8

Ohio

9

Oklahoma

6

Oregon

13

Pennsylvania

11

Rhode Island

5

South Carolina

9

South Dakota

8

Tennessee

10

Texas

7

Utah

13

Vermont

13

Virginia

11

Washington

12

West Virginia

13

Wisconsin

11

Wyoming

10

Food Environment Unhealthy for Many

The index is a key component of the CDC's 2011 Children's Food Environment State Indicator Report. Researchers say lack of access to supermarkets and other venues where healthy foods are available for sale have been associated with a lower quality diet and increased risk of obesity.

In addition, some studies suggest that greater access to convenience stores and fast-food restaurants where healthy choices may not be readily available or may cost more is linked to a greater risk of obesity.

"Childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years," says CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, in the release. "This report underscores the need to make healthier choices easier for kids and more accessible and affordable for parents."

The report also includes information on how U.S. states fare in meeting a variety of environmental, behavioral, and policy goals designed to combat childhood obesity and foster healthy eating habits among children.

For example, the report shows:

  • An average of 49% of middle and high schools allowed less healthy foods like candy, soft drinks, and fast food to be advertised on school grounds. In Ohio, nearly 70% allow it compared with only 24% of schools in New York.
  • About 64% of middle and high schools offer sugary drinks in vending machines or snack bars, ranging from a high of 80% in Kansas to a low of 16.7% in Connecticut.
  • As of December 2008, only one state, Georgia, had enacted all three state licensing regulations for child care facilities recommended by the CDC to encourage healthy eating and exercise habits among children (restrict sugary drinks, require access to drinking water throughout the day, and limit TV and computer screen time).

SOURCES: CDC: "Children's Food Environment State Indicator Report, 2011."News release, CDC.

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