- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Large food retailers opened 14 new supermarkets across Connecticut from the end of 2011 to the beginning of this year, but none in areas deemed by the federal government to need them the most, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Other states also are seeing a lack of new supermarkets being built in areas the U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated “food deserts,” neighborhoods without major grocery stores that offer fresh produce and meats. A lack of access to healthy foods contributes to health problems such as obesity and diabetes, research has shown.

Some of the nation’s largest food retailers promised four years ago to open or expand 1,500 stores in or around communities with no supermarkets by 2016, as part of a campaign by first lady Michelle Obama and others to end childhood obesity. But most of the companies have struggled to meet their goals.

In Connecticut, companies including Wal-Mart, Big Y, Price Chopper, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and BJ’s Wholesale Club opened new supermarkets, mostly in the western part of the state, from late 2011 to early 2015. But none of the stores is in food deserts in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven or in rural areas in the northwestern and eastern parts of the state.

The USDA considers a neighborhood a food desert if at least a fifth of the residents live in poverty and a third live more than a mile from a supermarket in urban areas, or more than 10 miles in rural areas, where residents are more likely to have cars.

State and local officials say, however, that people who live in Connecticut’s urban food deserts can find fresh fruits and vegetables at smaller grocery shops and corner stores. There are also community-government efforts to bring healthier food to those areas, as well as rural places.

Hartford has only one supermarket in its 18 square miles, but there are a half-dozen smaller grocery stores that offer a variety of healthy foods, said Martha Page, executive director of the Hartford Food System, a nonprofit group that works to address hunger and poor nutrition in the city. There are also many corner bodegas selling fruits and vegetables, she said.

“Clearly in these small stores, the produce section is going to be smaller and the meat section is going to be smaller,” Page said. “But you can get a variety of fresh produce and a variety of fresh meat.”

State and Bridgeport officials have collaborated on an initiative to get corner stores to sell healthier foods. New Haven officials worked together to attract a Stop & Shop that opened several years ago, and smaller stores like ones in Hartford are selling healthy food, Mayor Toni Harp said.

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