Focusing on Food To Advance Health Equity

In several communities, you only need to travel from one neighborhood to the next to see massive differences, too often linked with race, in health outcomes. For example, in certain areas in the nation, people in one neighborhood may have a life expectancy 20 to 30 years shorter than people living just down the road, and we often see these gaps in areas divided along racial lines

In more than 15 years of working in food and nutrition across many communities, I have seen such disparities firsthand, where too often predominately Black and Brown communities experienced both chronic health problems and the highest rates of food insecurity. These disparities only worsened during the pandemic – in 2020, for example, 21.7% of Black households experienced food insecurity – more than twice the rate of White households. The common thread in all these communities was a lack of investment in the food system. Yet in these same communities, I found inspiration and resilience in the local leaders and organizations who worked to expand food access, despite having fewer resources.

As a company, we understand that food access and health outcomes are closely connected. In many neighborhoods, Walmart’s physical presence and omnichannel capabilities allow us to serve as a resource for affordable healthy food and health services. And beyond our business, through philanthropy, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have funded programs to increase people’s access and confidence in eating healthier foods.

In 2020, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation made a commitment to go further – to use Walmart business initiatives and philanthropy to tackle health disparities that have affected the Black and African American community for generations. Walmart’s Health Shared Value Network (SVN), a team of associates guiding how the business approaches health equity, focuses on how Walmart’s capabilities and offerings can contribute to better health outcomes, including by addressing social determinants of health, such as food and nutrition insecurity.

The Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity is complementing the SVN’s work by investing in efforts that make healthy food options more available to the communities that need them most. We want to empower local entrepreneurs and organizations who know how to meet the needs of their communities but need investment to make lasting change. Recently, through Walmart and the Walmart Foundation, the Center invested nearly $9.5 million in grants to support organizations in finding solutions for healthy food while also driving economic development and building capacity in predominately Black communities with low food access. These grants support organizations working in two key areas:

The Intersection of Health Systems and Community-Led Food Solutions

  • The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Be Well Communities initiative in Houston’s Acres Homes neighborhood, a 47% Black and 43% Hispanic community where MD Anderson works on strategies to prevent cancer. Our investment supports sustainable, neighborhood-based food solutions as part of the initiative, and we hope it helps us learn how similar investments in communities could work.
  • American Heart Association’s Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund, which supports community-based food entrepreneurs and organizations in Atlanta and Chicago. This work is already underway, as 22 local businesses and nonprofits received funding to bring solutions for nutritious food to their communities. Take Atlanta Harvest as one example – a Black-owned, family-operated, multi-generational farm and food hub operating in food insecure neighborhoods.

Community-Led Food Solutions That Drive Economic Development

  • The EFOD Collaborative and Fund, fiscally sponsored by Community Services Unlimited, will use Equitable Food Oriented Development (EFOD), a food system strategy emerging from and focused on historically marginalized communities. EFOD food and agriculture projects aim to create community-owned business opportunities and healthy food systems. Projects are rooted in the neighborhoods they serve, use principles of community organizing and offer solutions that reflect the community’s cultural identity.
  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) will provide capacity-building grants to Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC)-led grassroots organizations expanding access to healthy food in communities with low food access, with a focus on the Southeast. LISC will support the organizations as they build or strengthen their programs and forge partnerships in their communities.
  • Reinvestment Fund (RF) will focus on Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi – regions facing high levels of food insecurity – to research the current state of funding for food systems in the area. Working with community-based partners, RF will provide grants that build capacity for small- and mid-sized food organizations to grow their businesses and expand access to food in their communities.

These grants aim to shift resources toward local organizations that can serve as models of community innovation and empowerment through food. We hope they not only help improve food systems, but also inspire others to support the entrepreneurs and organizations best placed to provide local solutions that strengthen food access and ultimately the health of their neighbors.