Healthy on the Block/Bodegas Saludables is a healthy corner store initiative coordinated by the City of Lawrence Mayor’s Health Task Force (MHTF) and Groundwork Lawrence to tackle the high levels of obesity and chronic diseases among city residents. The initiative’s primary objective is to assist corner store owners in Lawrence in offering healthier options, including higher quality fruits and vegetables, at a reasonable price to their customers. The initiative is funded by Lawrence General Hospital.
Low-income communities often have disproportionately less access to healthy food. These communities tend to lack full service supermarkets but have a high number of corner stores or bodegas. Researchers also found that “obesity prevalence increased and fruit and vegetable consumption decreased with increasing distance to a supermarket in metropolitan areas”, which highlights the importance of ensuring access to healthy foods.
- In Lawrence, Mass., 44.6 percent of children and 68.8 percent of adults are obese or overweight. Overweight children and adults are at greater risk for numerous adverse health consequences, including type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, certain cancers, asthma, low self-esteem, depression and other debilitating diseases.
- Obesity and many chronic diseases are directly linked to diet. Low-income residents are significantly more likely to suffer from diet-related health problems compared to the population as a whole.
- Low-income communities, such as Lawrence, often have fewer retailers that offer high quality, healthy food than higher-income areas, meaning residents who have to travel farther to supermarkets tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.
It is commonly believed that corner stores sell only unhealthy snack food and sugar-sweetened beverages; however, these stores often carry healthy options such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grain cereals as well. They also have the potential and capacity to offer healthier options if the community asks for and supports these changes.
Corner stores are usually places where neighbors frequent, providing consistent and reliable business for their owners. Neighbors walk, stroll or bike to the corner store for a staple that they just ran out of, or for the ethnic products that only their corner store stocks. Relationships forged by familiarity between customers and staff at these stores serve as a major asset in working together to increase healthy food options.
Why is food access so important in Lawrence?
A variety of Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by the MHTF and area medical providers, documents health inequities with particularly high rates of health-related chronic diseases in Lawrence. Due to the prevalence of overweight and obesity within Lawrence and the lack of healthy food intake among residents, there is a clear need to promote and increase access to healthier foods. By using the existing infrastructure of the corner stores, the Healthy on the Block/Bodegas Saludables Initiative was able to gain community investment from store owners and customers.
What is a Healthy Bodega?
As a participant in the HoTB/BS Initiative, a store owner commits to:
- Stocking fresh produce (at least $20.00 worth of each)
- Stocking healthier food options such as whole grains, low fat milk, etc.
- Displaying marketing materials
- Labeling and promoting healthy items
- Maintaining the cleanliness of the store
- Participating in Technical Assistance/training opportunities provided by either relevant city departments, the Mayor’s Health Task Force, or its subsidiaries
- Meeting other general requirements, such as accepting SNAP and WIC benefits.
What are the benefits to store owners and the community?
- Increased visibility for the store
- Support from a community team
- Increased sales
- Being a leader in your community’s health
- Growing customers’ base
- Improve the marketing of the store and its products
- Improved relationship with consumers, neighbors and the City