State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando (Pic by Minority Office, via flsenate.gov)

State. Sen Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, introduced legislation earlier this month that would increase access to fresh vegetables and fruits for low-income and struggling communities.

The bill follows Siplin’s plans to improve the quality of life for farmworkers and residents of the Apopka area.

Apopka’s mostly Hispanic farm-working population has encountered high amounts of pollution and poisonous pesticides for years. This has contributed to poor health conditions for the community, health workers in the area have said. According to Siplin, 10 to 15 years ago, Apopka farmworkers were being sprayed with pesticides.

“Now, they are burying someone almost every weekend,” he said. “I feel they have been mistreated.”

Siplin told The Florida Independent in September that he was working with community health workers in the surrounding community to help improve the quality of life there. The area, he said, has also suffered from ailments caused by their proximity to a landfill and limited access to fresh produce.

Increasing access to fresh fruit and vegetables for the workers was one of his projects for this session, Siplin said.

Senate Bill 852 would direct “Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to establish a financing program to help fund projects that increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in underserved areas,” the bill’s summary explains.

According to the summary, the bill would also “authorize the department to contract with other organizations to administer the program; specifying how the funding is to be used, provide who is eligible for funding, provide criteria for project funding and evaluation, require an annual report to the Legislature, and authorizing available funds to be leveraged to access federal funding.”

The bill would require the state to tackle an increasing problem. Underserved populations with limited access to fresh produce tend to suffer from obesity and obesity-related diseases at higher rates than communities that have better access.

A 2008 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that:

Socioeconomic and racial-ethnic disparities in health status across the United States are large and persistent. Obesity rates are rising faster in black and Hispanic populations than in white populations, and they foreshadow even greater disparities in chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease in years to come. Factors that influence dietary intake of fruit and vegetables in these populations are only partly understood.

Diet is an important determinant of obesity and chronic disease. Adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with a lower risk of some of the main causes of mortality in the United States, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and obesity. Diets rich in fruit and vegetables are also associated with a lower incidence of several common neoplasms, especially those of the respiratory and digestive tract. Researchers have found differences in fruit and vegetable intake by race and ethnicity, [socioeconomic status], and sex. Other studies have assessed racial and ethnic differences in additional dimensions of diet, including intake of fat, cholesterol, and fiber, and in adherence to healthy diets. Understanding the sources of racial and ethnic differences in diet is important in view of the possible contribution of diet to disparities in health outcomes.

Siplin is also currently working to make it easier for patients in Community Health Centers to get medical and dental care.

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