New report ranks MN counties on healthy food access

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Bonnie’s Hometown Grocery fills the grocery gap in Clinton, Minn. (Ann Arbor Miller for MPR)

How is your county doing when it comes to access to healthy food?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute today released their third annual health rankings. The report tracks the overall health of nearly every county in the United States by measuring factors such as unemployment, child poverty, and disease rates.

It also identifies what percent of low-income residents live far from a grocery store. That matters because, while food environment research is still in its early stages, there’s some evidence that living in communities without grocery stores affects what people eat – and correlates with obesity. It can create a real challenge for low-income residents, who wind up spending more in time and money for their food.

In Minnesota, Red Lake County is at the bottom of the heap, with 33 percent of low-income residents without a store close by. It’s followed by Grant, Lincoln, Norman and Marshall counties.

Most residents in Goodhue, Le Sueur, Rice, and Winona counties live near a store.

We’ve reported recently on what it’s like to live in low-access areas, called “food deserts” by the United States Department of Agriculture. Yesterday on All Things Considered, we looked at how one small grocer is filling the gap in Big Stone County.

We’ve also heard what it’s like to live in Duluth’s urban food desert.

People on the ground — both those living in poverty and those advocating for them — told us it can be quite a burden.

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