Regional ‘Foodsheds’ to Curb Obesity

13 Jan 2010

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have pointed the finger at America’s large-scale food production and distribution system as a cause of the nation’s child obesity epidemic. The current approach to food production means children — especially those in lower income families — are surrounded by high-calorie products, and the solution lies in local food production and consumption, the group has concluded.

In a situation where 90 percent of the country’s food is processed, only one to two percent of all food is locally produced, and the price of healthy food has risen more quickly than the price of unhealthy food in the last several decades, childhood obesity has become a major public-health problem. ‘The problem lies not just in a child, but the whole environment around a child,’ said Dr. Tenley Albright, director of MIT’s Collaborative Initiatives program. ‘To end obesity, we need to produce healthier, more accessible, more affordable food.’

The solution, the researchers say, is for each metropolitan area to obtain most of its necessary food from its own “foodshed,” a term similar to “watershed” that signifies the area that naturally supplies its kitchens. Furthermore, these local efforts should form a larger “Integrated Regional Foodshed” system, with the overall goal of lowering the price and caloric content of food by decreasing transport distances between farms and consumers.

The group has proposed a solution through a concept of “food terminals,” retail developments which combine grocery stores with greenhouses, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and education centers in urban areas. The researchers have also recommended a widespread adoption of small-scale innovations such as “lawn to farm” conversions in urban and suburban areas and development of vegetable plots in schools and community centers.

MIT has recognized that building a regional food system and changing the way the country eats will be a long-term process, but emphasized that society as a whole pays for the current national-scale food economy in ways that go beyond the price of food. ‘People haven’t focused on our food system yet because it’s big, it’s political, and it’s complex,” the program’s director Eleanor Carlough explained, “But it is a critical issue that needs to be addressed.’

Source: The Cornucopia Institute

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