By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press
The White House says several retailers, including Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Supervalu, have agreed to open or expand 1,500 stores in areas without broad access to fresh produce and other healthy foods. Company executives were joining Michelle Obama for an announcement at the White House Wednesday.
The first lady is on a campaign to lower childhood obesity rates, and increased access to fresh and healthy foods is part of that effort. Mrs. Obama has urged grocery chains to expand into so-called "food deserts," which are rural or low-income urban areas that have few grocery stores. The White House says some 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, currently live in food deserts.
Studies have shown that limited access to healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, can lead to higher levels of obesity and diet-related diseases.
Wednesday's announcement is also being cast as a jobs creator. The White House says the retailers estimate the effort will create tens of thousands of jobs while serving more than 9 million people.
This is Mrs. Obama's second announcement with Wal-Mart this year. In January, she joined executives of the retail chain as they announced that they would reformulate thousands of products to make them healthier and push their suppliers to do the same. The company said it planned to reduce sodium and added sugars in some items, reduce prices on produce and develop a logo for healthier items.
As the largest grocer in the United States, Wal-Mart's size gives it unique power to shape what people eat. The grocery business is nearly twice the size of No. 2 competitor Kroger. The company also has massive influence on products made by other manufacturers and sold at its stores.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)