The Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living (IHL), in partnership with The Paso del Norte Health Foundation and The Food Trust, convened a Food Summit on January 18th. The event was hosted by The Hospitals of Providence at their East Campus.
Over 35 local leaders from civic, public health, academic, city and county government, grocery retail, non-profit, research, and other sectors participated to address the critical need to expand access to healthy and affordable food in our region.
The Health Foundation has identified access to healthy food as one issue contributing to diet-related disease in the Paso del Norte region. According to the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, many of the people living in the counties in our region have low access to supermarkets, often described as “food deserts.” Low access to supermarkets, coupled with high exposure to less healthy food options can contribute to poor nutrition and chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
Over the past year, the IHL has partnered with The Food Trust to assess the food landscape in El Paso using a multi-pronged approach. First, over 40 interviews were conducted with individuals from the aforementioned stakeholder groups. Secondly, over 300 residents were surveyed to gather community feedback about food purchasing habits and barriers to healthy food access. Next, the Food Summit consisted of a series of presentations from national experts from The Food Trust and local leaders who facilitated a conversation on the state of access to healthy food in the region as well as the role public policy and philanthropic efforts can play in helping to address these issues.
A comprehensive strategy is key to addressing the scope of these issues in order to implement viable solutions which range from small store initiatives to nutritional education and healthy food financing efforts.
It is imperative to move the discussions and fostered connections established from the Food Summit forward into action-oriented next steps. The IHL’s role is to strengthen and support the existing Food Policy Council in El Paso to establish designated task groups. Each group will develop plans to improve healthy food access in underserved areas throughout the region.
This project aligns with related regional work in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, where successful Healthy Food Financing Incentive campaigns continue to address food access needs. Our partnership with The Food Trust also extends across the border into Juárez where additional work is ongoing to identify strategies to address the unique needs in that part of our region.