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Tackling the unhealthy food supply in disadvantaged communities

People living in disadvantaged areas of New York City are gaining easier access to healthy foods, thanks to an intervention with corner stores (which are also known there as bodegas).

An evaluation of the program  is profiled by Dr Melissa Stoneham and the JournalWatch service of The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA.

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The local corner stores….do they make a difference to our health?

Dr Melissa Stoneham writes:

Australians love corner stores. The convenience of strolling around the block to pick up some milk or a loaf of bread and saying hello to the local store owner is something we often take for granted.

Although there are fewer corners shops these days, the icon otherwise affectionately known as the ‘milk bar’, remains an integral part of many Australian’s daily life and has played a pivotal part in Australian culture and communities across the nation.

However, the concept of the corner store is a little different in other parts of the world.

In America, in low-income neighbourhoods, corner stores are often the only readily available sources of food for residents. Research has shown that stocking healthy foods and promoting those healthy items in corner stores through redesign of the store space and promotional signs typically had a significant increase on sales of healthy foods.

A recent study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, assessed the effectiveness of an initiative to increase the stock and promotion of healthy foods in 55 corner stores in underserved neighbourhoods in New York.

It has been identified that in New York City’s most underserved neighbourhoods, corner stores that are often termed bodegas, can make up more than 80% of retail food outlets.

The project, led by Rachel Dannefer from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, identified that corner stores were less likely to carry healthy foods such as fresh fruits or vegetables, they heavily advertised unhealthy products and were laden with convenience items that are often high in calories.

The Healthy Bodegas Initiative has been running in New York since 2006 and supports the corner stores by offering simple, low-cost, and effective mechanisms for selling and promoting healthier items.

It also works with community organisations and residents to support the purchase of healthier foods, essential to ensuring sustainable inventory change. A set of 16 health-promoting criteria was developed to assess the success of the initiative and included issues such as access to high-quality fresh produce and limiting sugary drink consumption.

An evaluation of this program with 55 eligible bodegas revealed that bodega owners made on average 4 health-promoting changes—with some making as many as 7—out of the 16 criteria involving improvements to the stock and promotion of healthy foods.

To be eligible, stores had to carry a minimum of 1 fruit and 1 vegetable (excluding lemons, limes, potatoes, and onions) and meet the definition of a bodega (defined as a food store that has no more than 2 cash registers, sells mostly food, does not specialise in any 1 item, such as candy or meat, and sells milk).

The most common strategies adopted by corner store owners included placing refrigerated water at eye level, stocking canned fruit with no sugar added, offering a healthy sandwich and identifying healthier items.

The study found that corner store owners reported increased sales of healthier items, but identified barriers including consumer demand and lack of space and refrigeration.

A consumer survey was administered to assess changes in purchases of foods promoted by the campaign. The percentage of customers surveyed who purchased items where a healthier option was promoted (low-sodium canned goods, low-fat milk, whole-grain bread, healthier snacks and sandwiches) increased from 5% to 16%.

This study is an important piece of work, as the bodegas are generally located in the poorest areas of New York and associated with high rates of obesity and diabetes.

The results of this evaluation indicate that corner stores are important vehicles for access to healthy foods and with sustained support, improvements in product placement and healthier consumer purchases are possible.

• Healthy bodegas: increasing and promoting healthy foods at corner stores in New York City. Rachel Dannefer, Donya Williams, Sabrina Baronberg and Lynn Silver. Am J Public Health. Vol 102; Issue 10; Pages 27-31.

And more reading on the bodega program from The Atlantic.

One of the bodegas in the Bronx that has been involved in the program: Picture by Mitchell Ward

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About JournalWatch

The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA) JournalWatch service reviews 10 key public health journals on a monthly basis, providing a précis of articles that highlight key public health and advocacy related findings, with an emphasis on findings that can be readily translated into policy or practice.

The Journals reviewed include:

  • Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH)
  • Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP)
  • Health Promotion Journal of Australia (HPJA)
  • Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)
  • Lancet
  • Journal for Water Sanitation and Hygiene Development
  • Tobacco Control (TC)
  • American Journal of Public Health (AMJPH)
  • Health Promotion International (HPI)
  • American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM)

These reviews are then emailed to all JournalWatch subscribers and are placed on the PHAIWA website. To subscribe to Journal Watch go to http://www.phaiwa.org.au/index.php/other-projects-mainmenu-146/journalwatch

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PHAIWA is an independent public health voice based within Curtin University, with a range of funding partners. The Institute aims to raise the public profile and understanding of public health, develop local networks and create a statewide umbrella organisation capable of influencing public health policy and political agendas. Visit our website at www.phaiwa.org.au

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Previous JournalWatch articles

• Smoking at the movies, a global public health concern

• Sports clubs are winners when alcohol sponsorship is dropped

• Call for more research and planning to deal with public health challenges of mega events

• Environmental factors that promote cycling

• A focus on the corporate practices that contribute to poor health

• How much healthy food is sold at fast food restaurants?

• Why the world needs a dengue day

• Germany’s role in undermining tobacco control

 

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