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Most U.S. Veterans Lack Access to Healthy Food and Gyms: Study

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78% of U.S. veterans are overweight or obese, compared to the 35% of American adults. A new study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago finds that a large number of U.S. veterans don’t have the best access to healthy resources like supermarkets or gyms.

The study examined census tracts and found that nearly 90%, or 19 million, of U.S. military veterans live in areas with less access to healthy food and physical activity options compared to the average adult living in the continental U.S.

Veterans, who already suffer from higher rates of obesity, disability, and depression than the average American, tended to have less access to supermarkets and fitness centers, says Elizabeth Tarlov, a VA research health scientist who worked on the study.

"It turns out that where veterans live tend to be areas that have fewer of these resources," Tarlov said. "There are an awful lot of veterans, millions of veterans, who have worse access than the rest of the population."

Local experts point out that while their data doesn’t show a percentage that high in Ohio, food insecurity still remains an issue among local veterans. In recent months, The Cleveland VA Medical started monitoring nutrition and food issues among its veteran population, says Mary Julius, a registered dietician with the center.

"From a food insecurity standpoint, this is most definitely an issue," said Julius. "We are putting monitoring pieces in place, and we are asking the questions, has there ever been a time when they simply do not have adequate money for food. We have put pantries in place, so that if a veteran says I’m hungry, I don’t have food, I don’t have money for food, they’re handed a grocery bag with food."

The VA currently has pantry locations in Youngstown, Parma, and Mansfield, and aims to expand it to other areas in Northeast Ohio as one intervention for the food insecurity issue among veterans. They also provide cooking classes for veterans.

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