Closing the Health Equity Gap: How the Minnesota Food Charter Can Help

The Minnesota Food Charter is designed to ensure that all Minnesotans have reliable access to safe, affordable, healthy food. Why? When it comes to health, not everyone is on a level playing field. In many parts of the state, certain communities experience disproportionate rates of diet-related chronic diseases (such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and type II diabetes). Communities facing these health inequities are far less likely to have the access to the healthy food they need to reduce their risk for diet-related diseases. Furthermore, it means, as a state, our long-term healthcare costs are far higher than we can afford. It also means our workforce isn’t as healthy and productive as it needs to be to ensure a prosperous future for all of us.

The Food Charter uses an ‘equity’ lens to understand this issue and identify common-sense policy and systems changes that work to level the playing field. An equity lens means we examine the structural factors that lead to poorer access to healthy food and diet-related health outcomes to better understand why some communities don’t have the same opportunity as others. In Minnesota, what we find is that income, geography, and ethnicity are the primary factors that increase peoples’ risk for diet-related diseases and reduce access to healthy food. Simply put–it’s an equity issue, and in the case of diet-related disease–it’s a ‘health equity’ issue.

Let’s take a quick look at Minnesotans who don’t have the same opportunities when it comes to healthy food access:

  • For elderly seniors on fixed incomes in many rural communities in Western Minnesota, it means someone’s grandparent may lack the mobility, transportation, or financial resources to travel many miles to the nearest grocery store. After all, per the Food Trust, Minnesota has the third worst grocery gap in the nation, which impacts thousands of seniors living in small towns.
  • For new immigrants living in small towns across Minnesota, while their jobs are oftentimes part of our food and farm economy, they may not earn enough to purchase healthy options or live near a place that offers healthy, culturally familiar options.
  • At the Grand Portage Reservation in northeast Minnesota, tribal residents must travel over an hour to the nearest full service grocery store.
  • For limited resource households in the suburban and urban Twin Cities, people must often stretch their dollars to cover food, housing, transportation, and other basic needs. When resources are tight, unhealthy options are often less expensive than healthier ones.

Using an equity lens, the Minnesota Food Charter offers clear, sensible solutions to the structural inequities that generate these diet-related health inequities across our state.

Many of the policy and systems changes proposed in the Minnesota Food Charter are designed to specifically advance health equity. For example:

  • Establishing a statewide ‘healthy food financing initiative’ such as the ‘Good Food Access Fund’ would provide resources to increase the number of retail grocers in remote rural areas of Minnesota
  • Implementing ‘healthy food procurement guidelines’ for food banks and food shelves across Minnesota would not only ensure that program participants were receiving healthy food, it also presents the opportunity to include culturally relevant healthy options to program participants from many cultural backgrounds
  • Ensuring all Minnesotans have a living wage is a great way to reduce food insecurity in many Minnesota households
  • Supporting all farmers’ markets so they can accept SNAP/EBT and provide ‘market bucks’ incentives to limited resource customers means many Minnesotans can buy more healthy items

These are just a few examples of Food Charter strategies that take a health equity approach to food access.

Want to get involved and help advance health equity? It’s easy! The Minnesota Food Charter Network is affiliated with over 60 local and regional food issue networks across the state, many of which are implementing Food Charter strategies. Just visit the Food Charter website to find a network near you.

You can also find the Minnesota Food Charter Health Equity Guide on the website, which describes all the health equity-focused Food Charter strategies and offers helpful resources and examples to support your work. The Food Charter’s Food Access Planning Guide and Healthy Food, Safe Food Action Guide are additional resources available on the website that provide specific strategies and resources designed to improve access to healthy food in your community and reduce diet-related chronic diseases for those most impacted by them.

It will take all of us working together to level the playing field and ensure that all of us have reliable access to safe, affordable, healthy food. That’s what we need to leave a legacy of health and prosperity for our state.