We think of corner stores as places where you can conveniently buy a bag of chips or some soda pop. But in many low-income cities around the country, the food sold at these shops isn’t just consumed at snack time — it’s served at mealtime.
In neighborhoods like the Bronx in New York City, a scarcity of grocery stores drives many residents to food shop entirely at local bodegas. Unfortunately, the absence of healthy choices in these stores can lead to poor diets—which in turn leads to poor health. In fact, the Bronx has the highest obesity rate among NYC’s five boroughs at a startling 30.5 percent. (In comparison, just 13.9 percent of Manhattanites are obese.)
“More than 1 in 6 adults in the Bronx is now overweight or obese, and has developed or is at risk of developing related illnesses like diabetes,” said city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “It is crucial that we address the issue of access to healthy foods in high needs areas.”
So if residents can’t get to healthier fare, why not bring it to them?
As NY1 reports, 170 out of 200 corner shops in the Bronx neighborhoods of West Farms and Fordham are working with the City Health Department to stock up and advertise healthier fare to customers as part of the Shop Healthy NYC initiative.
“Instead of being bombarded with the usual advertisements, you can look right in the store and see baskets full of fruits. You can walk right up to some snacks, but they’re healthy snacks; they’re fruits and nuts. If you want to get a candy bar, you have to ask for them because they’re behind the counter,” City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett told the news station.
This simple plan to get more fresh produce into bellies is clearly working. Shop owners told NY1 that sales of healthier foods in these neighborhoods has increased 59 percent from 2012 to 2013, and profits are either staying the same or even increasing.
“It’s a very, frequently repeated misconception that the junk in these stores is there because that’s what people want, but that’s not true,” Bassett said.
Based on the success of the Shop Healthy program, the city plans to expand it to other neighborhoods in the Bronx as well as to neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
The small changes that New York City bodegas are making aren’t difficult to implement nationwide. As you can see in the video below, shop owners make simple changes such as placing baskets of fruit by the cash register and removing sugary drinks from eye level, replacing them with water and other low-calorie beverage options.
When more than one-third of American adults and 17 percent of children are obese (costing the country $147 billion per year to treat), it makes a whole lot of sense to get the country on healthier diets.
It’s time to turn the corner on the corner store.