Opinion

We can get healthier food into small stores

A selection of peppers, carrots and salads are available at the Save-A-Lot grocery store that opened in 2015 in a shopping center on Martin Luther King Blvd. at the intersection with Raleigh Blvd. It brings fresh, healthy food to a so-called "food desert", unrelated to the current grant program for rural markets.
A selection of peppers, carrots and salads are available at the Save-A-Lot grocery store that opened in 2015 in a shopping center on Martin Luther King Blvd. at the intersection with Raleigh Blvd. It brings fresh, healthy food to a so-called "food desert", unrelated to the current grant program for rural markets. cseward@newsobserver.com

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which accounts for 800,000 strokes each year and half of all heart disease cases. It is no wonder that hypertension is called “The Silent Killer.”

In 2013, 36 percent of North Carolinians had high blood pressure, while 238,000 had had a stroke in their lifetime. And every year 720,000 people in the United States suffer heart attacks.

Hypertension and obesity are closely linked; blood pressure can rise as much as 2 points per pound of body weight. Losing that same pound can reduce blood pressure by 1 to 2 points. About two-thirds of U.S. adults and one in three children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk for high blood pressure.

These conditions cost us in lives and medical expenses. In North Carolina the estimated total cost of excess weight, physical inactivity, type 2 diabetes, low fruit/vegetable intake, hypertension, high cholesterol, depression, and tobacco use for adults is $54 billion per year.

Why do so many Americans suffer from high blood pressure? Hypertension can be inherited if there is a strong family history but diet is a major factor; many of the risks associated with hypertension and obesity are due to a diet high in calories, fats and sugars and low in nutritional value. Additionally, many food products are loaded with sodium. The result is a nation with increasing incidence of obesity and nearly 70 million Americans suffering from hypertension.

The risks of obesity and hypertension can be greatly reduced by shifting to a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, lean meats, and beans.

Many in the state lack access to these healthier options, and a nutritious diet and good health remain out of their reach. As a result, diet-related diseases are on the rise, especially among children. In North Carolina more than 1.5 million North Carolinians live in these food deserts. The affected population is more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.

The good news is that many efforts are underway to provide healthy food to high-need populations. One such effort is HB 250/SB 296: The Healthy Food Small Retailer/Corner Store Act, which, if passed and fully funded, would bring healthy foods into small stores along with nutrition education and promotional materials.

By increasing the healthy options, this initiative has the potential to decrease the percentage of children and adults who are at risk for hypertension and other chronic health conditions. It ensures that all North Carolinians have healthy food options in their communities so they have the ability to make healthy choices.

Through policy changes like the Healthy Corner Store Initiative North Carolinians can begin to reverse the growing trend of hypertension, thus reducing the amount of suffering and loss attributed to heart disease and stroke.

Dr. Brian Forrest is a family physician from Apex and a member of the N.C. Justus-Warren Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Task Force.
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