Healthy food financing would help millions

Published 9:50 pm Monday, December 21, 2015

To the editor:

A recent Associated Press article found that just 7 of 63 new supermarkets in Virginia opened in food deserts, or areas that lack access to affordable healthy foods, despite a pledge from retailers to expand in such areas by 2016.

Going to the grocery store is something most of us take for granted. But for the 1.7 million Virginia residents — including more than 480,000 children — who live in lower income communities where it is difficult to buy affordable, healthy food, that trip to the grocery store is anything but easy.

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The need for more supermarkets in Virginia exists in urban and rural areas of all size, from Richmond to Lynchburg to Martinsville and large swaths of coastal and southwestern Virginia.

The result? Access to healthy produce, lean protein, dairy and other staples is tough at best, and simply not an option for far too many.

Not having a local grocery store can have far-ranging impacts on people’s lives. Families that live in communities where they can’t find a bag of apples or a head of lettuce are at greater risk of becoming overweight and obese.

Studies show that the closer we are to neighborhood supermarkets, the more likely we are to have healthier lives and lower body weight, too.

Fortunately, there’s a solution to these problems: healthy food financing. Healthy food financing programs create public-private partnerships that make a real difference for individuals, communities and even entire states.

This critical loan and grant financing helps healthy and affordable food retailers overcome the higher initial barriers to entry into low-income and underserved communities — barriers like land acquisition financing, construction and workforce development.

Once grocery stores have been built in underserved communities, the results are dramatic. In Pennsylvania, an initial grant of $30 million created 88 new grocery stores, 5,000 new jobs and $190 million in total investment.

What’s more, it brought healthy food choices to 400,000 Pennsylvanians who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access healthy produce, lean protein and whole grains.

It’s time for Virginia to consider a healthy food financing program. For the 1.7 million Virginians who lack access to nutritious food, isn’t it time they had access to the affordable healthy food that keeps us all happy and healthy?

Join me in supporting a healthy food financing initiative in Virginia. Learn more about how you can make a difference at or sign up at to keep up to date on this initiative.

Dr. Robert Lancey

Medical Director

Cardiovascular and Thoracic Services

Heart and Vascular Institute

Maryview Medical Center