Friday, December 08, 2006

Fruits and Veggies on the Way

In a continuation of the city's attempt to work with bodegas to supply healthier products for low-income New Yorkers, the NY Post reports that the Health Department announced yesterday that they will implement a plan "that supplies discounted carrots and apples to 60 bodegas in the city's poorest unhealthiest neighborhoods to help combat obesity."

As Commissioner Frieden told the paper, "eating fruits and vegetables can prevent obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease." Now the big unanswered question is how the city is going to get low-income New Yorkers, and especially poor kids, to want to eat the better, healthier foods. The Post tells us that a "startling survey" found that only 2% of bodegas in Harlem and only 4% of these outlets in East Harlem sold green veggies. "And a majority don't sell fruits."

Well, aside from the fact that 7 Elevens in the tony suburbs don't sell these things either, it is clear that the paucity of fresh fruit and vegetable outlets is primarily a function of lack of demand. What is missing from the DOH initiative, and we have said this often, is a plan to put boots on the ground in a neighborhood based grass roots effort to raise community awareness about healthier eating.

Which is why we have been encouraging the city to look at the expansion of Dr. Oz's Health Corps concept, already installed in nine schools in the city. Changing attitudes is a key component and the Health Corps, by targeting young people, is a good beginning. It is also important, however, to take this school-based initiative and link it up with community-based outreach in order to widen the campaign in the city's diverse neighborhoods.

The last piece of the puzzle is to see how we can incentivize the building of some new larger supermarkets in low income areas, ones that feature the kinds of products that are healthier to consume. All of the food store owners in these neighborhoods must be brought into the game plan so that there is a true public-private partnership established.