‘Food deserts’ starving children of nutrition

 In many areas of Colorado, it is very easy to find sweet and salty snacks and sodas — but difficult to find fresh fruits and vegetables.

These “food deserts” are the leading cause of obesity in the state’s poor and rural neighborhoods.

The Colorado Health Foundation points out the disparity of finding healthy food across the state in its report, “Food Access across Colorado.”

The health effect and geographic extent of food deserts are gaining increased attention — as chronic diseases have been associated with low consumption of fruits and vegetables.

“These factors in tandem with the lack of education on healthy eating and a dearth of exercise opportunities common in food deserts, are taking a documented toll on the health of those who do not have convenient access to a grocery store,” the report said. “The disproportionately high rates of diabetes, obesity and chronic diseases among these populations are straining the health services and reducing life expectancies.”

The report said that one-fifth of deaths in the country are related to high-calorie diets, combined with a lack of exercise.

“While various economic and environmental factors have led to food deserts, the individual health outcomes of poor people with limited access to fresh foods are perilously consistent,” the report said. “Negative health consequences are often in epidemic proportions.”

The report suggests that increasing access to fresh, nutritious food in low income areas is one way to combat epidemics of obesity and diabetes. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture says that healthier diets could prevent $71 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity.

Doctors want protection

Doctors are asking the Federal Trade Commission for the same exemption that a U.S. District Court gave attorneys.

The American Medical Association, The American Dental Association, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Veterinarian Association sent a letter to the FTC, asking them to exclude health professionals from controversial regulations intended to control identity theft.

The letter comes on the heels of a court decision that excludes attorneys from the “red flag rules,” rules that govern what creditors must do to protect consumers from identity theft. The FTC had said that both doctors and lawyers — as well as banks, mortgage companies, credit card companies and other lenders — must comply with the rules.

The rules were met with widespread criticism when they were introduced last year, and the trade commission delayed implementing them twice last year. Now, the FTC has delayed implementing the rules again until June 1.

But doctors say merely delaying the rules will not help — they want the same protection attorneys received in the court case.

“Congress did not intend the original red flag legislation to apply to small businesses, but rather it was intended to encourage large businesses like banks, credit firms and national retailers to implement best practices to protect customers’ from identify theft,” said ADA President Ronald Tankersley.

AMA president James Rohack said that the court ruling is a “clear signal” that the FTC needs to re-evaluate the board application of the red flag rule.

In its ruling against the FTC, the court said that the application of the rule to attorneys is “both plainly erroneous and inconsistent with the purpose underlying enactment of the FACT Act.” The court also said the FTC is trying to extend its “regulatory power beyond that authorized by Congress.”

Medicaid: Under the gun

It’s that time again: time for Congress to act to save Medicare reimbursement rates.

It’s an annual ritual — deferring a 21-percent pay cut that take effect March 1 if they don’t.

Some doctors foresee the annual fight in Congress, and are no longer accepting new Medicare payments. The pending cut is the result of a complicated payment formula Congress approved during 1997 to control spiraling costs of the program, which provides health care to seniors.

But since 2003, Congress has deferred the pay reductions — and sometimes even raised reimbursement rates.

But the down-to-the-wire stopgap measure that happens every spring needs to end, doctors say. They’ve launched a campaign to lobby Congress to ask for a permanent solution.

During November, the House of Representatives approved the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009, but it has not yet passed in the Senate.

Although the cost of practicing medicine has gone up about 20 percent during the past decade, Medicare payments remained relatively unchanged. During 2005, the cost of eliminating the cut was $49 billion, now avoiding the cut is expected to cost $210 billion during the next decade.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.

  • http://www.wellnessbymanymeans.com Rahim Samuel

    It’s a sad but very true issue. The thing is, I think with just a little influence, education and example, kids would eat a lot healthier if healthy food was put within their grasp. I can remember when I was a kid, the ice cream man would come to my neighborhood without fail. However, I wonder what kind of effect a “fruit cart” man would’ve had if he could come to the neighborhood as regularly as the ice cream man. Just like in Colorado, this is a problem everywhere.

    Rahim Samuel
    Publisher, Wellnessbymanymeans.com