Monday, December 17, 2007

Healthier Foods in the Neighborhood

In yesterday's NY Daily News, the paper's Albor Ruiz highlights today's HealthCorp press conference on the DOH's "Healthy Bodega" initiative. As he points out, "Small, friendly and convenient, bodegas are veritable community institutions. Yet when it comes to shopping for healthy food, your friendly neighborhood bodega is not the first place that comes to mind.
That could be about to change."

The change may be occurring because the obesity epidemic has become do severe in low income neighborhoods that something drastic needs to be done-and the HealthCorps, in conjunction with the Department of Health is intervening. HC's approach is to be the catalyst for community change, and that's why it is enlisting community groups from all over the city to make people more aware, and to make store owners more responsive to the need to change eating patterns now.

As Dr. Mehmet Oz, HealthCorps' founder told the News: "I am not that old - I just turned 46 - but when I was training as a surgeon, I don't remember anyone younger than 50 with these kind of problems," said Oz, a celebrity author frequently featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." "But in recent years I have seen more and more 25-year-olds with clogged arteries. And I began to think how I can make a difference." His answer was HealthCorps, an innovative program designed to educate children about healthy living. Funded in part through a grant from the City Council, HealthCorps has coordinators in 28 high schools across every borough."

City Council chair Joel Rivera captures the essence of the bodega campaign: "One of the best defenses against obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease is to snack on fresh fruits and vegetables," Rivera said. "Yet many New Yorkers still do not have many healthy food choices readily available in their community." So the word needs to go out, and communities like Make the Road by Walking need to involve their communities so that change can occur.

Ruiz has it right, and the DOH finally has understood that it's the hearts and minds that need to be changed: "With obesity, hypertension and diabetes growing at alarming rates in the city, it is more important than ever for every community to have access to the healthy food choices Rivera talks about." Change can happen, even if it's one bodega at a time.