Boosting Health With Local Food

This article originally appeared in the New York Times Food blog on June 6, 2008 and was written by TARA PARKER-POPE

The local food movement typically has been about improving the health of the planet. Buying locally means less fuel burned to transport food, which means less pollution.

But now researchers are trying to find out if eating locally farmed food is also better for your health.

A team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a grant to study the public health impact of moving toward a local, sustainable food system. An increasingly vocal local food movement calls for consumers to try to buy and eat foods produced within 100 miles of their homes.

So far, there’s not real evidence that eating locally farmed food is better for you. But there are many reasons to think it might be. By definition, locally farmed food is not going to come from large commercial food companies, so people who eat locally aren’t going to consume as much processed food, which typically contains lots of refined carbohydrates, sugar, fat and preservatives.

By focusing your diet on products grown and raised within 100 miles of your home, you will likely end up eating more fruits and vegetables as well. Shopping for fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets is also pleasurable and may lead to more variety in your diet. Eating local often means you can meet the people who produce your food, and you can also ask questions about pesticide use and farming methods.

The University of North Carolina study will last two years, and researchers say it will improve understanding of the health, environmental and economic issues associated with the local food trend. The study will look at the environmental benefits of transitioning to sustainable farming practices, determine whether there are nutritional and health benefits for consumers, and conduct an economic analysis of opportunities and barriers to local food systems.

“Among the most pressing public health problems in the U.S. today are obesity, environmental degradation and health disparities,” said Alice Ammerman, director of the U.N.C. Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. “Contributing in a big way to each of these problems is our current food system, with its heavy dependence on fossil fuels such as fertilizers, pesticides and gasoline for large-scale production and long distance transportation of often high-calorie, nutrient-poor food, from farm to processing facility to table.”

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