Friday, February 27, 2009

Education to Address Some Issues Surrounding the Links Between Chronic Disease and Food Deserts

In a recent study published by researchers at the University of Michigan, it was suggested that Americans who live in areas where fast-food venues are numerous, are more likely to suffer from a stroke, than those who live where fast-food outlets are fewer. Evidence provided in Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago, also suggests that the greater number of fast food restaurants, the greater the prevalence of numerous conditions and chronic diseases traditionally used as health markers including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Both studies conclude that the convenient supply of fast food restaurants coupled with the severe scarcity of grocery stores in these areas may leave residence to eat less healthy food, resulting in increased medical conditions.

Although many people believe there is feasibly nothing that can be done immediately, I beg to differ. Eating fast food or food from a convenient store may be the only option for some, but it is not necessarily what they prefer. And often times, one can end up spending much more at a restaurant or convenience store per person than at a grocery store. If however, the first step towards reversing these situations involved education, a tangible, measurable difference in well-being may be observed.

If people could learn how to buy the largest/sufficient quantity of healthy foods on their budget, they may view things differently. A program called Eat Smart New York, does just that. This nutrition education program targets parents who receive or have at one point received supplemental nutritional assistance from the state. This program not only teaches them how to choose healthy groceries and prepare hearty meals for their families, it shows them how to do so on a budget. In Erie County, this budget was $10. They introduced the “Ten Dollar Stretch”, first coming up with several different grocery items that may be used to make family meals for less than ten dollars, and then showing them how to look through grocery store ads to find the best deals, make a list, and go at it. Participants were given calculators and taught how to calculate unit price as well, to make sure they were getting the best deal. They also stressed that canned, and even better, frozen fruits and vegetables, although not as ideal as fresh fruits and vegetables, were a good addition to any budgeted diet.

Many of the items could be found in a convenience store, but this is not a solution to the problem of food deserts. I feel that a bottom-up and top-down approach are needed to completely address the issue, and that this is one bottom-up approach that has been proven to change lives. And maybe if communities began to demand more canned or frozen vegetables and healthier options on a budget, perhaps more would be offered. But from this level, education must come first. Sure many people may believe that a diet consisting of McDonald’s for lunch and KFC for dinner is bad for health. But they should also know that Kraft Macaroni and Cheese isn’t the next best thing. That is where education comes in: teaching people how to improve their current situation and through that, strive to facilitate change.


1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. Do you think Eat Smart New York is top-down or bottom-up? On one hand, it seems bottom-up because it addresses people's needs on an individual, face-to-face level. On the other hand, it appears that it is coming from "the top" - experts/educators from outside the community. I would be interested to know how the program is received in poor communities, and what the educators do to reach people without being condescending.