Millions of rural residents now face limited choice and low quality in their retail food choices. Eight percent of the U.S. rural population—approximately 4.75 million people—live in communities lacking access to healthy foods. Significant research indicates a strong relationship between those citizens living in food deserts and chronic, diet-related disease. Obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease are all associated with a lack of access to healthy foods.
An important source of healthy rural food access is the local grocery store. They are a vital source for nutrition and health, providing a supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and protein. In fact, the presence of grocery stores in rural areas has been shown to correlate with lower rates of obesity and nutritionally-related disease. Unfortunately, these rural businesses struggle and it seems every day we hear about another store closing shop and shutting their doors.
Because the loss of a rural grocery store threatens the health of local citizens and the very existence of that community, Kansas State University and a broad range of partners are working to assist rural communities and their grocery stores. Toward that goal, we are proud to announce that on June 6-7, 2016 we will host the Fifth National Rural Grocery Summit at the Hyatt Regency in Wichita, Kansas. At the Fifth National Rural Grocery Summit we will bring together store owners, citizen leaders, food suppliers, academic researchers, policy makers, and funders to talk with one another about how best to sustain this critical piece of community infrastructure and improve the health of our rural citizens.