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The New York Times reported over the weekend about how “store owners in Cleveland, New York, Louisville and elsewhere are being approached by public health organizations and economic development agencies with offers of new equipment, marketing expertise or neighborhood promotions to encourage them to stock more fresh produce, whole wheat bread and other healthy offerings.”

One example is in Newark, New Jersey, where a corner grocery store recently acquired scanners and new refrigeration equipment “that will be installed near the front of the store. Those new refrigerators, to be filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, are part of a new effort by Newark — with variations in other cities across the country — to improve the diets of low income residents.”

In other cases, “The Cleveland Corner Store Project encourages small groceries to sell fruit near the check-out — prime locations where candy and chips are usually found — and promotes these stores with sidewalk signs and posters and at neighborhood health events. New York’s ‘Healthy Bodegas’ initiative has reached out to 1,000 stores in a variety of ways, including helping owners secure zoning permits to allow fruit and vegetable displays on the sidewalk. In Louisville, two small groceries were awarded $20,000 this year to expand their offerings of fresh produce.”

As the Times writes, “The movement is driven, in part, by a decades-old problem: the paucity of food shopping options in poor neighborhoods. In Newark, with three supermarkets for a population of 279,000, the city says nearly 40 percent of the money spent on food by residents is spent outside the city.

“Campaigns to entice supermarkets, with their expansive produce departments, not to mention scores of local jobs, have met with mixed results. In Philadelphia, a ShopRite opened last year in a low-income neighborhood with help from a Pennsylvania program that provided a $1 million grant and $7 million in federal tax credits. New York is considering a similar plan that would include tax and zoning incentives, but few other cities have such a program in place.”
KC's View:
The good news is that at least in some cases, these kinds of programs are having an impact, as demonstrated by increased sales in selected stores.

Seems to me that this is an intelligent way for communities to attempt to deal with the significant public health program that obesity has become. Better to provide options than to try to ban or tax certain kinds of foods or drinks, and to support those options with educational programs and the kind of public funding that can make a difference.

Sure, some people will decry this as unnecessary or inappropriate social engineering...but it seems to me that the money spent to support an inner city business might be a smaller investment than the long-term costs of an entire population that has to be nursed through heart problems, diabetes and the like. Plus, you support small businesses that may be able to grow and pay taxes and eventually hire people who will have to pay taxes, and who then may start up their own businesses. The entire effort seems to me to be a healthy approach to public policy, with a focus on long-term strategies instead of short-term band-aids. It isn’t the only thing that should be done, and it cannot be considered a solution in and of itself. but it is the right kind of beginning.