The city Health Department's Shop Healthy New York program has proved successful in two Bronx neighborhoods, and is now set to expand in the Bronx and in Brooklyn—all in an effort to lessen the gap in health disparities. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
One hundred and seventy out of 200 bodegas and grocery stores in the Bronx neighborhoods of West Farms and Fordham are working with the City Health Department to provide healthier food options.
Now, the city plans to expand the Shop Healthy New York program to East Tremont and is starting a pilot initiative in East New York, Brooklyn.
"This program is... really about beginning to make the small changes in our everyday world that we think over the long term will show the changes in obesity rates and diabetes rates," says City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett.
The Bronx has the highest obesity rate in the city at 32 percent.
The first year of the Shop Healthy initiative showed some promising results.
Advertising of healthy items rose from 42 to 90 percent. Healthier, lower sodium deli options increased from two to 45 percent.
"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," Bassett says.
As a result, sales of healthier foods in these neighborhoods in 2012 to 2013 increased 59 percent with shop owners saying their profits either stayed the same or increased.
Alex Hauter, manager at 20/20 Deli, says the impact has been only positive for his bodega.
"We see the changes—like selling the fruits, we never had them before and now it's more often with us," Hauter says.
"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 says.
Bassett says she doesn't expect to see a measurable difference in obesity and diabetes rates for some years, but the Health Department is tracking the impact.
Still, Hauter and community health advocates say the program is serving a huge need.
"To keep our customers healthy, and to build a healthier neighborhood," Hauter says.