Our government is taking notice of our country’s need for a health overhaul, and this time, it appears that they might be tackling the problem instead of treating only a symptom. Rather than treating obesity, heart conditions and diabetes at health clinics, after these problems have been contracted, let’s promote healthy foods in our grocery stores that people shop in every day. The current budget (given the absence of any budget cuts) allots $400 million for a health promotion strategy called the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, in which our administration is funding development for new supermarkets in low income communities that do not currently have access to fresh foods.
An expert in the area of public health, Rupal Sanghvi, adds that the design of the actual grocery store plays a critical role in the ability for shoppers to make wise choices of the foods that they purchase. According to Sanghvi’s commentary, captured in a recently published article, “A Better Way to Fight Obesity: New, Smarter Supermarkets,” grocery stores are arranged strategically to increase the purchases of their customers – the temperature is kept low to spur unnecessary purchases and colorful product placement sparks unplanned buying. The bakery and dairy counters are hosted in the back of the store to draw customers through the aisles for any possible food cravings to catch their eyes. What’s worse, these stores are only required to have about 5% of their store space designated for fresh produce… that’s 500 square feet in a 10,000 square foot store!
So how can the stores change to address our population’s waning health? According to Sanghvi, “The answer, in short, is that the supermarket becomes a platform for community engagement and social cohesion. She calls it ‘outcomes-based healthy supermarket design,’ and it could entail anything from microenterprise incubation to nutrition education to open space for recreation and entertainment. Her plan is to involve local communities in designing their own markets in order to ensure that their specific needs are met.”
What’s really important, however, in making this work is ensuring that the government guidelines are on the side of health – instead of profits, necessarily. To me, the reality should be that supermarkets in low income areas which comply with this new design for healthy store design, starting immediately, get tax breaks and offer tax and price breaks. The government should support our population in healthy eating habits, rather than unhealthy processed foods-eating. Not only should consumers see the benefit in their pocketbook, but so should the store business owners.
Furthermore, there should be a penalty assessed on stores that carry limited fresh foods. So the corner stores with only junk food, tobacco and soda should be penalized unless a certain percentage of their goods are fresh foods. How can our country promote the prevention of diet-related diseases without attacking the core of our eating problems? Monies should then be provided to help stores especially the small stores convert to healthy foods providers. If we all support our government in spending this $400 million properly, then our low income population will be guided to make the right decisions in their daily grocery store rather than falling into poor health and trying to treat their conditions in a clinic after the fact.