BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota State University will lead a nearly $4 million study aimed at giving needy families across the country healthier nutritional choices at their local food pantries, the U.S. Agriculture Department announced Wednesday.
South Dakota State researchers and colleagues at Michigan State, Purdue, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio will work with local food policy councils in a dozen test communities with the hope that the program can be replicated elsewhere, said Suzanne Stluka, who will lead the five-year Voices for Food project.
Stluka, director of the Food and Families Program at South Dakota State, said families who get their food from emergency and supplemental nutrition programs are often limited in their choices.
"Poor nutrition today does not necessarily result in starvation, but it results in chronic diseases such as obesity or heart disease or cancer," she said. "So we're dealing with a whole another round of food access and food security. And financially challenged and underrepresented citizens are at the highest risk."
The award is part of more than $75 million in USDA research grants given to 21 schools across the country that were announced by Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan on Wednesday.
Merrigan, speaking Wednesday at South Dakota State University's student union, said consumers want nutritious and locally grown food, but many simply don't have access to it.
They live in what are called "food deserts" — low-income communities in which a substantial number of residents are at least 10 miles form a large grocery or supermarket — so the convenience store or liquor store down the street might be their only option.
"They're paying more money for less quality food," Merrigan said.
Stluka said Voices for Food will draw from varied expertise, incorporating nutrition, youth development, agriculture, community development, social marketing and evaluation.
Researchers will spend the first year will identifying two test communities in each of the participating states — South Dakota, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio — and develop their research protocol. The following three years will be spent in the learning communities, developing food policy councils, teaching about nutrition and increasing the healthy choices, Stluka said.