Lack of grocery stores may result in poor nutrition for N. Mplsby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
In Minneapolis, city statistics indicate that Northside residents have higher rates of obesity and related health problems than the city as a whole. Obesity is a known as a factor leading to chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. A lack of grocery stores in North Minneapolis appears to be part of the problem -- government studies show that a shortage of full-service grocery stores can be linked to poor nutrition and obesity.
Minneapolis — The Cub Foods store on West Broadway is the only major grocery store in the North Minneapolis area. The neighborhood has pockets of poverty, poor housing and longstanding trouble with drugs and crime.
Before this store opened three years ago, Yvonne Jackson drove far from her home, into the suburbs to shop for groceries and fresh produce.
For Jackson, fresh produce is a priority. Her two girls, aged 7 and 10, love their vegetables.
"What are we going to have with our taco salad? Should I get lettuce or no. I'm going to do broccoli," says Jackson.
"I want broccoli, I'll eat broccoli," says her daughter Shaunassey.
"Okay, we'll definitely have broccoli in there. She eats things that she doesn't even know," Jackson says. "Like this zucchini is going to go into the taco salad. Beans, broccoli, cauliflower -- yeah, she loves cauliflower -- she eats almost any vegetable that is served to her."
Jackson says she's happy to finally have a full-service supermarket in the area but she wishes there were even more places to shop. Ed Anderson, director of the North Minneapolis Cub Foods, says he would love to see more shoppers like Jackson.
He says the store has yet to turn a profit and more produce sales would help the bottom line.
"We sell a lot of meat and not so much produce which is the opposite of our suburban stores. I think what needs to happen is, the university is involved, and they need to continue to educate the clientele on the benefits of fruits and vegetables," Anderson says.
The University of Minnesota is one of a number of groups working to address health and nutrition disparities on the Northside. One of them is the Northside Food Project, which sets up farm stands and holds cooking classes for children and adults.
The University of Minnesota's Bernadette Longo is the group's co-founder. She says it's important to recognize that people are not necessarily avoiding healthy foods.
They're generally eating what's available to them, which can be limited by lack of transportation or other barriers.
"That is an issue that most people find difficult to believe, that there are significant numbers of people right here in Minneapolis for whom food of any type is not readily available. So when people are in those situations and especially when they have a limited food budget it's true that they are buying calories," Longo says.
Calories in the form of inexpensive and processed foods -- the kind found in convenience stores.
A 2002 Hennepin County study found a strong connection between a lack of supermarkets and nutrition-related disease. Areas with the least access to supermarkets had fewer adults eating the recommended daily allowance of five fruits or vegetables a day.
That same year, more than a quarter of Northside residents were obese, compared to 16 percent of the city as a whole. More than 7 percent had diabetes, while in Minneapolis as a whole the rate was 5 percent.
But North Minneapolis is hardly unique.
University of Minnesota food economist Jean Kinsey says grocery stores are typically scarce in low income areas. As a result, these areas tend to have fewer healthy food options than affluent neighborhoods.
And she says high-crime locations mean higher insurance and security costs, something stores try to avoid.
"You have only about a 1 or 2 percent profit margin on sales in a grocery store," Kinsey says. "The traditional thinking is that the risk and the cost of operating in very poor neighborhoods is high enough that it makes them unprofitable."
The Northside Cub Foods is taking longer than usual to turn a profit, says director Ed Anderson. But he hopes to be in the black within a year or two.
City officials say if the Cub Foods succeeds, it will likely draw more fresh food and produce options to the area. But Northside Food Project founders say the city should do more to promote farmers markets as an alternative. Minneapolis officials say they're already responding to a common complaint that red tape impedes the licensing of new farmers markets.
Northside Food Project Organizers are also in talks with potential funders about establishing a permanent food co-op in the area.
Meanwhile, Hennepin County officials are updating their 2002 study on the connection between neighborhood food offerings and health. The results are expected by the end of this summer.
- Morning Edition, 08/27/2007, 7:55 a.m.