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Healthy food should be available to everyone during the holidays


As we enter the “holiday season” full force American consumerism is again rounding out the year with chart-topping spending. For most of us, this is just a part of the “season of giving.” It’s also another reminder of the merriment to come. In fact, the holidays are often filled with an extreme feeling of abundance or perhaps even decadence. But it would serve our communities well to remember that for many, this season is yet another reminder of just how little they have.

While many of us will line up with our plates to dig into the holiday feasts at various family festivities, some will be scraping together what they can simply for a balanced meal. This is an issue that transcends your local soup kitchen or mission; it’s a struggle that takes place in average family homes.

According to a recent study, approximately 25.3 million Americans in urban neighborhoods and rural towns lack access to fresh, healthy, affordable food options. More than half of those Americans—an astounding 13.5 millionare low income. They reside in what we call a “food desert”.

Even more alarming is the fact that food deserts have a disparate impact on minority communities in the United States. Our minority populations are half as likely to have access to healthy food retailers as communities that are predominately non-Hispanic White. This reality undoubtedly exacerbates pre-existing health disparities in minority communities because lack of access to healthy food contributes to poor diet and higher levels of obesity, and ultimately higher risk for diabetes and heart disease.

The fact is, a diet high in plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables is crucial to disease prevention and management of pre-existing illnesses like type two diabetes or heart disease. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals are necessary to keep the body functioning properly and antioxidants are necessary to protect the body from oxidative damage. Diets low in nutrients and that include overly processed foods can worsen or, in some cases, promote inflammation in the body leaving people at a greater risk of chronic diseases.

To make matters worse, this is an issue that transcends generations. With food insecurity continuing to be a pervasive issue facing people in the 21st century, it is certainly not hard to recognize a correlation between such a significant lack of access to healthy food and the 15.3 million American children who live in food insecure households.

Food insecurity is leaving our youngest generation at risk for not having their needs met for nutrients like iron, folate and DHA (an essential fatty acid, that all affect early brain functioning). Moreover, the foods that are available in these food deserts tend to be high in calories and sugar yet low in nutrients. Ultimately, the children in these areas are at an increased risk of developing type two diabetes, a growing problem affecting our youth over the last few decades.

Perhaps most appalling is the disparate impact that food insecurity has on African American children. Consider that more than one in three Black youth lack consistent access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy life. Call it a “meal gap,” if you will. But this ever-widening chasm in the health of our minority communities is a testament to severity of racial health disparities.

Moreover, there is an increasingly high cost to malnourishment and the ills of a poor diet. This year the United States will spend approximately $864.1 billion to combat diet-related illnesses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a focus on healthier diets alone could prevent at least $87 billion per year in medical costs, lost productivity, and lost lives.

Proper nutrition and a strong investment in public health should never be considered a luxury that we can’t afford, especially when it is so vital to the growth and development of our posterity. So, as we gift each other throughout this holiday season, let us remember to strive to give ourselves and others the gift of health.

If you or someone you know is affected by a food desert or lacks access to a consistent balanced food source, please direct them to their closest food pantry. A list of food bankis are available at:

Ana Fadich serves as vice president at Men’s Health Network (MHN). Her work involves the execution of various programs and services related to outreach, promotion, and education. Men’s Health Network (MHN) is a national non-profit educational health organization dedicated to improving the health and well being of men and their families, where they live, work, play, and pray.

Meri Raffetto is a registered dietitian and founder of Real Living Nutrition Services, an online weight loss and wellness program inspired by the Mediterranean Diet. She’s the author of the “Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Dummies,” “the Glycemic Index Cookbook for Dummies” and “Glycemic Index Diet for Dummies.” She is also a member of Men’s Health Network Board of Advisors.

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