City officials hosted a press conference this week at a Bronx supermarket to introduce two health initiatives that they said would help New Yorkers shop, eat and be more healthy.
Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs, Health Commissioner Tom Farley and Human Resources Administration Commissioner Robert Doar introduced the Shop Healthy NYC pilot program and the Cut the Junk campaign to shoppers at a Belmont-area C-Town supermarket in an effort to combat the obesity epidemic in the city. The Bronx, in particular, is suffering from extremely high obesity rates.
“In the Bronx, nearly 70 percent of residents are obese or overweight and at higher risks for certain cancers, diabetes and heart disease,” said Farley. “Communities need a healthy food environment.”
Shop Healthy NYC is a Health Department’s pilot program that asks bodegas, delis and supermarkets to limit or minimize the availability of junk food and maximize the display of healthy food options and produce in their stores. It is funded by the New York City Center for Economic opportunity.
This program starts with a food retail challenge that asks store owners to commit to several store changes which would include stocking more waters in the coolers instead of added-sugar drinks (like soda), displaying more low-sodium and no-added-sugar canned goods and offering a healthy sandwich and meal combination at the delicatessen section of the store.
“This is a good thing, I guess,” C-Town employee Bethanny Clark said. “Obesity is growing [and] this is trying to educate people about being more healthy food wise.”
C-Town owner Jose Perez said that in the last three to four months the supermarket has already made some changes to the way they display their junk food. He said they’ve replaced the candy and sweets that are usually displayed at the check-out aisles with fruits and packaged nuts.
Perez said that he intends on continuing to participate in the retail challenge and he is in the process of organizing a large project that would include rearranging the way his supermarket stocks food. These plans include displaying more fruits and produce in front of the store.
Participating markets will receive shelf hangers and free-standing baskets to place their fresh produce. Officials say more than 100 retail venues in the Fordham and West Farms section of the Bronx have agreed to cooperate with the initiative.
The Human Resource Administration (HRA) is also promoting healthier eating with their “Cut the Junk” campaign. “Cut the Junk” is an informational campaign that highlights the risk of an unhealthy diet.
Doar said the goal of “Cut the Junk” is to get New Yorkers to trade in junk and fast food for healthier meals. This campaign also emphasizes that healthy food choices can be more cost-effective than unhealthy alternatives.
As a part of this initiative HRA also created an illustrated “Cut the Junk” booklet that’s filled with information about healthier food options and cost comparisons to reinforce that a home-cooked meal can be healthier and less expensive than fast food or junk food. It also includes suggestions on portion control strategies, such as using smaller plates.
“It is critical that we make progress in increasing access to healthy food and decreasing access to junk food in [low-income] neighborhoods,” Gibbs said.
These initiatives come a month after State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. celebrated the second year of the Bronx Change Attitudes Now (CAN) initiative, which tackles issues of obesity and nutrition in the borough. That initiative is sponsored by Montefiore Medical Center.
At the launch last month in St. James Park, Rivera and Diaz Jr. said they wanted to expand the Bronx CAN initiative, which started in the northwest section of the Bronx, to other areas of the borough.
Rivera said he is happy to see that many retails venues in the Bronx are agreeing to the Shop Healthy initiative. He said these two initiatives will help to expand the Bronx CAN initiative that he launched a year ago.
Stores that participate in the Shop Healthy NYC initiative will also receive a proclamation from the Bronx CAN health initiative and a certificate from the Bronx Chamber of commerce.