Community health professionals advocate and emphasize that not all food improves human health. Health advocates emphasize that fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods should be available and accessible within a local food system to address community health issues such as obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases (Center for Disease Control, 2010). A healthy food system that is truly integrated within communities should increase the availability and access of healthy food options for people of all socioeconomic levels.
Virginia also has the opportunity to enhance local and regional food systems to improve health outcomes, reduce healthcare costs, and address potential economic leakage in communities due to lost productivity. Economic leakage simply means total sales and economic output within an area are not as much as they could be based on the area’s population, income, capacity and existing resources.
In the past ten years, the prevalence of obesity in Virginia increased from 19.3 to 25.5% of the population. Even though this obesity rate is lower than many other states, the rapid growth and prevalence of chronic diet-related illnesses is costing us lives, quality of life and economic prosperity. In 2006, the total cost of diabetes for people in Virginia was estimated at $4.4 billion.
This estimate includes medical costs in excess of $2.8 billion attributed to diabetes, and lost productivity valued at $1.6 billion (American Diabetes Association, 2008; 2011). Since these expenses are due to preventable diet-related illnesses, increasing access and consumption of fresh, healthy whole foods can help address the prevalence of these diseases and health care expenses. The state would also benefit from lower treatment
costs and higher economic activity through time as individuals experience better health.