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Advocate Health Care Working to Create an Oasis in the Food Desert

Oak Brook, IL - In Chicago, it is estimated that some 600,000 people live in areas that are considered food deserts, which are communities with little or no access to healthy food, including fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products. According to a report authored by Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group, the nearest grocery store in food desert neighborhoods is nearly twice the distance of the nearest fast food restaurant.

In an effort to help fill food deserts in Chicago with healthy options, Advocate Health Care is teaming up with Growing Power, a national nonprofit organization committed to the development of community food systems that help people grow, process and market fresh foods in food desert areas.

In 2012, Advocate Christ Medical Center located on Chicago’s South side began purchasing foods for distribution at its hospital in an effort to fuel, grow and distribute healthy produce and create job opportunities in one of Chicago's most isolated and impoverished communities.

“Supporting good health is our primary mission,” said Mary Larsen, manager of environmental stewardship at Advocate Health Care. “We not only want to raise awareness, we want to help eliminate preventable diseases and reduce the cost of health care.”

The Gallagher report also found that in areas with the worst access to fresh food, ten out of every 1,000 people die from cancer. And while a host of factors such as poor health care and stress also contribute to these numbers, the comparison is more chilling when it comes to deaths from cardiovascular disease, afflicting 11 people per 1,000 in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, compared with fewer than six per 1,000 among more affluent communities. As a clinical enterprise, Advocate is focused on the direct link between poor health and the lack of health-giving foods and is working to break down barriers.

“With little or no access to fruits and vegetables combined with immediate access to cheap, fast food, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and cancer is not surprising,” Larson said. “We can make an impact and hope to add more sites to this effort soon.”

If you would like to connect with Mary Larsen to learn more about Advocate’s effort to eliminate food deserts, contact Vincent Pierri, manager of public affairs, Advocate Health Care at 630.990.5126 or

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