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Expanding access to healthy food across racial lines

Thursday, January 28, 2010; A24

I applaud Michelle Obama's focus on childhood obesity, arguably our nation's most serious health problem ["First lady to take on kids' obesity," Style, Jan. 21]. As part of that effort, we must ensure that every American family, regardless of income or race, has access to healthy foods in its neighborhood.

To do that, Congress must hold food retailers accountable. "Retail redlining," national supermarket chains' practice of avoiding low-income African American and Hispanic areas, forces millions of Americans to rely on convenience stores, liquor stores and corner groceries that push junk food -- often at inflated prices. The system is fueled by junk-food makers who pay retailers "slotting fees" to guarantee shelf space, pushing fresh produce and other healthy foods off shelves.

Given the lack of access to healthy food, it's no wonder that obesity rates are significantly higher among low-income communities of color, as are diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and other ailments related to excessive weight. Until Congress ensures equal opportunity for all Americans to shop for healthy food, our children will continue to suffer.

E. Faye Williams, Washington

The writer is national chair of the National Congress of Black Women.

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