Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Healthy Stores Project

Hey, where are the bananas?
Last fall, I read an article in the print edition of the Afro newspaper that a project was aiming to help get more nutritious foods into Baltimore corner stores, a place where many of their urban residents rely on for groceries.

For nearly ten years, I worked in high poverty, low-income communities and if I forgot to bring my lunch from home, I was short. My only options at that time were fast food restaurants, the Chinese carry out or a corner store. During that time, I worked as a Director of a teen parent center and GED program, where the parents would bring potato chips and huggies as snacks for their children. We had some work to do.

The Healthy Stores Project, an initiative of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, states on their website the project's aim is to “improve health and prevent obesity and disease in low-income communities through culturally appropriate store-based interventions that increase the supply of healthy foods and promote their purchase.”

The Baltimore Sun has a great article on the project’s efforts so far. Snippets from the article by Stephen Kiehl:

“A Johns Hopkins University project to get better food into the stores - and, ultimately, improve the health of urban residents - is expanding this fall from 17 stores to 35, scattered across the city. Store owners who agree to stock the healthful foods receive promotional materials, shelf labels and posters. Hopkins researchers offer samples to customers and do cooking demonstrations to introduce new foods. They sometimes provide stores with bananas and whole wheat bread on a trial basis.
“If you have a lot of healthy foods available close by, either in corner stores or supermarkets, then people's diets are better and the rates of chronic disease are lower," said Joel Gittelsohn, director of the Hopkins Healthy Stores Project. "We see our role as priming the pump a little bit, to say to these stores: If you agree to stock this food, we will promote it. You provide the supply, and we'll work to provide the demand…You have this curious circle where people don't buy the [healthful] foods because they're not available, and the stores don't stock them because they think no one wants them," said Gittelsohn. His job is to break that circle.
One key is to provide healthful foods that are the same price as the unhealthful ones. That's a challenge. Whole-wheat bread is more expensive than white. Baked chips and Sun Chips don't come in the same 25-cent bags as Utz's high-fat Cheddar and Sour Cream Chips. And 100 percent fruit juice costs several times more than the small 35-cent plastic bottles of Hugs, the sweetened drinks that kids slurp down.
The expansion of the Healthy Stores Project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will focus on stores near schools and recreation centers to target children 10 to 14. The project has identified the foods that provide the most fat, sugar and calories in children's diets, and will be promoting alternatives. That means flavored water instead of the sweetened Kool-Aid-type drinks, trail mix and granola bars instead of cakes, fruits instead of candy.”
Although not all store owners have agreed to participate, the article states that the project will expand and involve churches in its diabetes prevention efforts.

Visit the Healthy Stores Project website here.

Photo: Chiaki Kawajiri/B. Sun

No comments: