First lady Michelle Obama Wednesday announced a $200-million California nutrition program that was created by the California Endowment to encourage healthful eating in low-income areas.

The program is intended to provide loans and other financial aid to grocery stores, food trucks and neighborhood markets is regions known as “food deserts,” possibly including sections of Santa Ana.

Called the California Freshworks Fund, the money will be used to help the outlets refashion their businesses to stop selling items like cigarettes and junk food.

Approximately 4.4 million Californians live in areas with limited or no access to healthful food options, according to an analysis conducted by Social Compact, a nonprofit that tries to bring financial investment to inner-city communities. Portions of Santa Ana fall within the classifications used to describe communities that need more fresh food outlets.

The emphasis on access to grocery stores has been challenged by a report released last week that said the number of nearby fast-food restaurants has a bigger impact on obesity among the poor than the availability of supermarkets that stock fresh food and vegetables.

But those involved with the California Freshworks Fund said that as people learn to eat better, they will need sources of healthful food. That means corner stores and food trucks as well as grocery stores.

The program, modeled after one in Pennsylvania, was initiated by the California Endowment with a $3-million grant and $30 million in seed capital. Participation from other groups, including grocers, banks and healthcare companies, expanded program funds to $200 million.

The other organizations are NCB Capital Impact, NCB, Unified Grocers, California Grocers Association, Kaiser Permanente, Catholic Healthcare West, Calvert Foundation, Social Compact, Emerging Markets, PolicyLink, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Community Health Councils, the Reinvestment Fund, and the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency.

Michelle Obama announced the program by inviting several of the groups to the White House “for a healthy foods summit with corporate and industry leaders,” according to a news release. She has been a prominent advocate for access to healthful food.


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