access to healthy food

Data Viz: Updates to SNAP and Farmers Market Data

For me, new data is like a new pair of shoes – I still find utility in the old ones, but the new ones give me a feeling of opportunity and I immediately begin thinking of all the new things I can do with them.

Last week, Community Commons updated three highly-utilized indicators:

  • Farmers’ Markets Accepting SNAP (USDA)
  • SNAP-Authorized Retailers Access, Rate per 10,000 Population by Tract (USDA)
  • SNAP Authorized Retailers (USDA)

These indicators are often used by communities to highlight access, or lack of access, to healthy and affordable options, to identify gaps in service areas, and to inform site development for farmers markets, transportation routes, and other economic development-related projects.

Explore the updated data in the maps below. Click each map to open them in the Community Commons Maproom and to zoom to your community.

Click the map to zoom to your community.

Click the map to zoom to your community.

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Are you using SNAP or farmers market data to make change in your community? Share your projects in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Partner Spotlight: Partnership for a Healthier America’s Place-Based Mapping Tool

Collecting and analyzing data can be a tedious task, one that requires significant amounts of time and research capacity, even in an ever-evolving technical era. As The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) continues to expand their private sector partnerships and scale their initiatives, they discovered a need to be able to manage more partner and community data, more quickly. Doing so would amplify their ability to provide more timely decision support, prioritize areas of greatest need, and best match strategies to community needs.

Problem, meet solution.

Place-Based map built upon the Vulnerable Populations Footprint

To maximize resources and potential for impact, PHA partnered with Institute for People Place and Possibility (IP3) and the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES) to develop the Place-Based Mapping (PBM) tool.

The PBM tool provides a powerful way to analyze data related to poverty, obesity, and vulnerable populations specific to a particular geographic area. Using the architecture of the Community Commons Vulnerable Populations Footprint (VPF), the PBM tool combines partner locations and key equity indicators to inform a comprehensive community indicator report, a demographic summary, and a series of maps and other data visualizations showcasing a community’s assets and opportunities. PHA Hub members are also able to upload their own data to create new footprints – a solution which supports real-time and hyper-contextualized decision making.

Click the map to zoom to your area.

The PBM tool ensures that PHA and its partners are able to identify the most vulnerable geographies for their interventions. Business partners, in particular, have found value in the PBM tool. They see it as a way to enhance their understanding of community needs, evaluate their potential impact, and keep public good and data-informed decision making at the forefront of their work. With organizations like Kwik Trip and Sheetz, businesses that make commitments with PHA agree to a collective goal of transforming the marketplace – making retailers more equitable, accessible, and focused on community health.

As stated by their Chairman, James Gavin III,

That’s why PHA places a special emphasis on reaching the children who live in neighborhoods that are not only disproportionately affected by obesity, but least likely to have the means to combat it. Our staff is trained to structure and direct partner commitments to ensure they reach those geographic places and socioeconomic groups that are the most challenged.

PHA is devoted to working with the private sector to ensure the health of our nation’s youth by helping to solve the childhood obesity crisis. PHA brings together public, private, and nonprofit leaders to broker meaningful commitments and develop strategies to end childhood obesity. Most importantly, PHA ensures that commitments are made and kept by working with unbiased, third parties to monitor and publicly report on the progress their partners are making to show everyone what can be achieved by working together. 

The development of the PHA Place Based Mapping Tool  was made possible through support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation COGIS Project.

To learn more about the PBM tool, contact

National Study of Community Benefit Practices to Promote Healthy Food Access

Health Care Without Harm’s (HCWH) three-year project, Catalyzing Health Care Investment in Healthier Food Systems, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, includes a national study of nonprofit hospitals’ community benefit practices to promote healthy food access and healthier community food environments. The national research informs the development of tools and resources to help facilities address healthy food access and risk of diet-related health conditions in their community health needs assessments (CHNAs) and community benefit implementation strategies.

A national survey of not-for-profit general hospitals throughout the United States assessed the landscape of community benefit programming to increase healthy food access, promote healthy and sustainable food systems, and reduce risk of diet-related health conditions.

Researchers discovered that obesity and diet-related health conditions were among the most common health needs identified in CHNAs. A key finding was that the majority of interventions centered around diet and nutrition education and exercise promotion– and that fewer interventions focused on increasing access to  healthy foods.

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“Alongside the nutrition and exercise information, a lot more can be done to address healthy food access in our communities,” Susan Bridle-Fitzpatrick, PhD, Health Care Without Harm Senior Researcher, said. “Health professionals may educate overweight or diabetic community members to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, but if there are no places to buy affordable fresh produce in the neighborhood, or families are struggling with food insecurity, then these folks will have a difficult time adhering to the recommendations. It is critical to understand the environmental context and how the choices people make depend on the choices they have. People know to eat broccoli and apples–what are the other obstacles keeping people from eating healthier foods? We need to make access to healthy foods both convenient and affordable in our communities.”

Click the map to zoom to your area.

The study involves a national survey of not-for-profit hospitals, analysis of survey respondents’ Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs) and implementation strategies, in-depth interviews with key informants, case studies, and a literature review. This report is the first in a series of research reports and other resources that will be released in 2017 and early 2018. These will include a comprehensive research report that will discuss in depth the findings from the survey and other research methods and present recommendations. Also upcoming is a toolkit of guidance resources that will support hospital community benefit professionals and community partners in developing initiatives to promote healthy food access and healthier food environments.

While this project takes a broad look at how hospitals are assessing healthy food access, obesity, and diet-related health needs in their CHNAs and how facilities are addressing these needs in their implementation strategies, the forthcoming resources particularly recommend certain kinds of “win-win-win” opportunities. The toolkit will highlight innovative examples where hospitals employ their community benefit resources to:

  1. improve access to healthy, affordable food and at the same time
  2. support economic and workforce development in low-income communities
  3. strengthen local and sustainable food systems

The project promotes “promising practices” initiatives that include local food producers and processors as part of a multi-pronged effort to increase access to fresh, affordable, and sustainably produced food; promote health equity; and stimulate the local economy—particularly through creating well-paid jobs in low-income communities. These “win-win-win” initiatives support the local food system while working to eliminate health disparities and empower and improve the lives of community residents.

Member Spotlight: Using Data to Advance Food Policy

Barb LaClair is a consultant for local food policy councils in Kansas. She has years of experience working on hunger and food insecurity issues throughout the state. Many rural Kansans have a difficult time accessing healthy foods, often times relying on food provided by convenience stores. In her work, LaClair is helping food policy councils gather data for assessment work so they can begin to address food insecurity issues at the community level. The food councils’ goals are to not only assess food insecurity issues, but to improve participation in food nutrition assistance programs, strengthen food assistance networks, and encourage community-level action to fight food insecurity.

Can you describe how you began working on food policy issues in Kansas?

We have about a dozen relatively new local food policy councils in Kansas. I have had a personal interest in food systems and food policy for a long time so this was a real opportunity for me to transition into this consulting role to help these new food policy councils with their food system assessment work.

Many of them don’t have a lot of data handling capacity – it can be a little bit intimidating. I have been working with them to gather secondary data from a lot of different sources and then put that together in some kind of cohesive report that they can use as a starting point in their work. 

What’s driven the growth of these new food policy councils?

This has evolved just in the last 2 years. We just have a lot of new groups that are getting their legs under them and starting. They needed a little technical assistance to get going. We’ve had generous funding on the table and that always helps. The Kansas Health Foundation has backed all of this. They have been encouraging communities to think about what they can do at the community level to promote health and healthier behavior. The food policy council funding was a piece of that. So that’s been a tremendous help. But I also think in public health there’s been an evolving recognition that the environments we live in really are important and make a huge difference in how healthy our populations are. So what we can do in terms of reshaping environments to be more supportive of good decisions and healthy behaviors is a real interest for a lot of folks.


Click image to zoom to specific area and to create your own map.

What are the biggest health issues currently impacting the lives of Kansans?

There are several things. Our obesity rate is now 7th highest in the nation. Where obesity rates have started to decline in some places, they have not in Kansas. Also, we do have some real access issues. We have a food insecurity rate that has stayed high while they’ve started to drop in other places, our poverty rates have stayed high, we have some economic challenges that I think are making it difficult for a lot of families. And we have some counties that do not have single grocery store. Rural Kansas definitely has access issues and we have access issues in parts of our cities. I live in Topeka and we certainly have areas where access to grocery stores is not adequate now.


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What do people do when they do not have access to grocery stores?

For those things like bread, milk, convenience stores or dollar stores are a place people can usually get those, but the rest of the food that’s there is not healthy a lot of times. Or they drive very long distances to get to the grocery store. I think farmers markets are growing in Kansas. It varies across the state in terms of interest in locally grown or produced food. Our production of local foods is relatively small, we’re primarily conventional commodity crop farmers.In some places like Lawrence, KC, and NE Kansas I’d say there is more support [for farmers’ markets]. Some accept SNAP, we’re making progress. A lot of rural Kansas is simply about getting access to any food.

How have you used Community Commons?

I use it on a daily basis. It has been tremendously helpful to me. A lot of the data, not all, in pulling together these assessments is available quickly and easily and a nice format through the Community Commons reporting system. I love the mapping feature, I have some rudimentary mapping skills, but on Community Commons I get a nice looking map for what I want. Although I know where all those primary data sources are and I could go pull them from the Census, it just saves me a lot of time by being able to look at a quick report from Community Commons. Every chance I get I encourage people to use Community Commons, I think it is user friendly, I think it is full of tremendously valuable information.

SNAP Incentives: A Win for Rural Communities

This post was originally published at the Altarum Institute and was written by Kate Fitzgerald.

While much has been written about so called “food deserts” and the connections among poverty, low food access, and high rates of chronic disease, most studies and projects have been conducted in big cities. In fact, poverty, poor health, and limited access to healthy food are often more acute in rural communities, where isolation and limited public- and private-sector resources make these challenges harder to fight (1).

A new report by Fair Food Network challenges such assumptions by digging into the growth of its healthy food incentive program, Double Up Food Bucks (Double Up), in rural communities across Michigan, an exciting trend over the past 3 years.

Consider the facts:

  • In 2014, more than a third of participating Double Up farmers markets were in communities of fewer than 50,000 people; 50 of these markets were in rural communities with populations of less than 20,000.
  • Almost 20% of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Double Up dollars were spent in these markets last year.
  • Thirty-four additional rural markets and farm stands joined the program in 2015.
  • Rural residents used Double Up at higher rates than urban shoppers, which may dispel another myth that farmers markets are an affluent urban phenomenon.
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Click on the map and zoom to your location to see this data for your area or visit our Map Room to create your own maps.

The key to Double Up’s growth, particularly in rural communities, is its holistic design, which makes it as easy as possible for low-income families to buy and eat fresh, locally grown produce, with benefits for health and local economic development. With Double Up, for every dollar in SNAP benefits that a family spends at a participating farmers markets or grocery store, the family receives an additional dollar to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Since low-income families spend as much as 36% of their total income on food, these additional dollars increase low-income families’ buying power for healthy food, providing families with the extra margin that they need to buy food that will support long-term health rather than maximize calories as inexpensively as possible (2).

By linking the new Double Up dollars to local produce purchases, the program encourages federal SNAP be spent locally and the additional Double Up dollars increase the economic benefit to regional farmers, participating markets, and the entire local economy. (As the program expands to grocery stores, the goal is to extend the economic impact to the state’s mid-sized farms that sell into wholesale rather than direct markets.)

In the last 5 years, Double Up has been directly responsible for at least $7 million in SNAP and incentive sales in farmers markets, representing new income and spending power for the 1,000 Michigan farmers that participated in the program each year. The economic development value of new income is greatest when farmers spend earnings in their local rural communities. In-depth evaluator interviews with six farmers participating in Double Up in 2013 found that all purchased almost all their farm inputs either in their home county or in an adjacent rural county. This indicates a high potential for local economic impact.

The evaluation also shows that Double Up supports the proliferation of farmers markets, expands and diversifies their customer base, and increases their long-term financial stability. Furthermore, it encourages existing markets to become authorized to accept SNAP.

In this way, incentives help increase access to healthy food retail in rural communities and solidify the markets’ place as an important component of the local food retail economy, critical in towns that have lost their local grocery stores. Each successful farmers market in turn creates an average of four new jobs, and every dollar spent at a market creates an estimated $2.80 in local economic activities (3, 4).

With rural communities in Michigan hardest hit by the Great Recession, integrated efforts like Double Up show promising results meeting families’ food needs while supporting rural producers and stimulating economic opportunity.

Read the entire report at Fair Food Network’s website. Also, dig into previous Fair Food Network reports, including a look at the SNAP consumers’ experience using Double Up Food Bucks.


  1. White House. (2015, May). Opportunity for all: fighting rural child poverty. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2013). Consumer expenditure survey. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
  3. O’Hara, J. (2011, August). Market forces: creating jobs through public investment in local and regional food systems. Washington, DC: Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved from
  4. Sonntag, V. (2008, April). Why local linkages matter: findings from the Local Food Economy Study. Seattle, WA: Sustainable Seattle.

Kate Fitzgerald works on federal policy that links family farms with consumers to achieve better public health and economic opportunity. 

Let’s Move! Third Anniversary Tour

It’s been three years since First Lady Michelle Obama introduced Let’s Move! to America. In that time, the nation has seen a concerted effort to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation through a wide range of initiatives and partnerships formed to improve the health of America’s children.

To celebrate, the First Lady is taking a two-day nationwide tour to highlight achievements and announce new opportunities for continued success. Read more

NEA starts Bag The Junk website

Bag the Junk is an informational website to support the NEA Health Information Network’s Healthier School Food Advocacy project. The Healthier School Food Advocacy project is a national initiative to improve the nutritional quality of snack foods and beverages sold in school vending machines, cafeteria à la carte lines, school stores and fundraisers. visit website

Chicago Urban Gardening Group Adding Bicycles

Efforts to promote sustainable transportation and projects that support access to healthy, affordable food have a lot in common. Growing Power, a national nonprofit headquartered in Milwaukee, which currently runs several urban farms and community gardens in Chicago, is looking to combine the two. They recently put out a “Request for Collaborator,” seeking a partner to create an active transportation program for their Windy City locations. read more

Beyond the Food Desert

Why We Can’t Get Healthy Foods in Poor Communities

California’s Public Policy Institute published a study in March revealing that not only do poor neighborhoods contain more fast-food restaurants and corner stores than affluent ones, these communities hold nearly twice as many supermarkets per square mile as wealthier locales. Could it be that everything we’ve ever assumed about food justice is wrong? read more