Heart Association plans food campaign

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The American Heart Association is planning a $1.5 million healthy food campaign in Michigan to get more fresh fruits and vegetables in corner stores where processed food is usually all that’s available, the organization said Thursday.

But the association does not yet have a time line for when the program may roll out. It does not have any funding for it yet either.

The Legislature has so far approved a $100 “placeholder” for the program before departing for summer break — a way of signaling that lawmakers may fund it in a supplemental budget bill.

“We are very optimistic that it will be funded before the end of this year,” said David Hodgkins, Michigan government relations director for the American Heart Association.

In a follow-up email, Hodgkins said association officials will continue working with the Legislature to “ensure the program is funded” and they “remain confident that lawmakers in both parties recognize the urgent need to provide more access to fresh, nutritious foods and we’ll continue to work with them to make this program a success.”

The organization says it anticipates being able to offer healthy food for almost 2 million Michigan adults and children if it can secure the money by lining convenience store shelves in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods with healthier foods.

In Michigan, 1.8 million people and 300,000 children lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables according to statistics from the Michigan Healthy Food Access Campaign, a program from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.

Local fruit and vegetable growers are already anticipating that dearth to be a boon for business, said Dave Smith, executive director for the Michigan Vegetable Council. Smith joined Hodgkins on a press call with reporters Thursday to praise the future food program.

Smith said there are nearly 3,000 vegetable and fruit growers in the state. Because of that plenitude, there’s no reason why the Heart Association would need to find out-of-state food to meet increased demand, he said.

Public schools officials also lauded the new effort .

Lori Adkins, a child nutrition consultant with Oakland Schools, said she sees the campaign as a way to get healthy food to low-income students whose sole current source of fresh fruits and vegetables might be free or reduced school lunch programs.

“A proper diet has a profound impact on a student’s academic performance, affecting their thinking, behavior and health,” Adkins said. “Each and every school day I see how a balanced, nutritious diet impacts students in the classroom. However, eating healthy shouldn’t begin and end with the school day.”