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Study, Assemblyman Seek Action On ‘Food Deserts’

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Childhood obesity (credit: AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

Childhood obesity (credit: AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Fewer groceries in urban and rural areas statewide have worsened the so-called food deserts in New York, where the poor have little access to affordable fresh produce and nutritious foods, a study finds.

The American Cancer Society study recommends several measures, including a tax of 1 cent per ounce on sugar-sweetened drinks to help fund and evaluate childhood obesity programs and other efforts. The so-called fat tax was defeated in fierce lobbying in Albany after it was pushed by former Gov. David Paterson to combat childhood obesity and diabetes.

Funding could help entice grocery stores in these areas and to bolster community gardens and the availability of fresh produce, the study also suggests. The cancer society also seeks a moratorium on new licenses for convenience stores, pharmacies and fast-food restaurants within 1,000 feet of schools.

Food deserts, as defined by the federal government, are in 32 of New York’s 62 counties, the study finds. It says 86 percent of the 656,000 New Yorkers living in food deserts are in urban neighborhoods. The rest are in rural areas.

“Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers must tackle childhood obesity,” said Blair Horner of the American Cancer Society. “Incentives for supermarkets and other grocers to create oases in New York’s food deserts is an important way to improve New Yorkers’ health.”

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of Brooklyn said he will use the study to again push for more nutritious options in poor urban and rural neighborhoods. This year, his bill to have New York farmers send surplus produce to specific neighborhoods was signed into law by Cuomo.

Ortiz said even the “fat tax” will be pushed in the session beginning in January despite opposition to new taxes by Cuomo and the Senate’s Republican majority.

“The fat tax is something we need to continue to talk about, as long as the revenue is directly targeted and used to address a healthy lifestyle, and not to fill a budget gap,” Ortiz said in an interview.

What do you think? Do you think the government should take action against unhealthy “food deserts”? Tell us your thoughts in our comments section below.


(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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