Traditionally low-income communities have less full-service groceries stores that provide a large selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, and fish compared to more affluent communities. Yet the people who live in those communities have more access to fast food restaurants, corner stores and mini markets that have an overabundance of high sodium, cholesterol and fat prepackaged and deep fried products.
Over time and generations, the diets that contribute to diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers and heart disease become the norm. It may take a little more work and effort but eating healthy in the hood is an option and is becoming more of the norm for many reasons.
Many people have seen the devastations of preventable chronic diseases in the lives of loved ones, some people who know better are doing better and community members and leaders are taking action to make sure that policies, local ordinances, resources, and incentives are enacted to support and promote healthy eating.
Here are five things we can do to increase healthy eating in low-income communities:
1. Incorporate healthy meals and cooking classes in community events and activities. Back to school events are the perfect time to teach families how to prepare inexpensive healthy meals and snacks. Oftentimes, these events serve refreshments that include sugary drinks and snacks, potato chips and high fat meats. This is an opportunity to educate families on healthy ingredients and to teach them skills on how to prepare healthy snacks and meals. Especially snacks for children to eat after school/before dinner.
2. Sometimes it seems that there just isn’t enough time in one day. With work, school, parenting, extracurricular activities and taking care of so many people and things, we often don’t take time to prepare healthy meals but instead, rely on fast food. Prioritizing healthy meals is essential to good health. Weekly healthy meals and snacks preparation can sometimes be a daunting task. Some tips are, preparation of baked instead of fried foods and preparation of serving size bags of nuts, fruits and vegetables. Prepared meals and snacks is a great way to save money and increase intake of healthy foods.
3. Community gardens are a great way to increase the availability of fruits and vegetables in communities. It provides an inexpensive way for the community to come together to work on a project, educate all generations on the skills and benefits of growing, gathering and maintaining their own fresh food.
4. Financial incentives to support farmers markets by local governments is a great demonstration of tax dollars being impactful in multiple areas – increase access in healthy foods, employment opportunities, supporting local businesses and productive use of vacant lots. Over time the health benefits can exceed to financial contribution.
5. Local officials can support healthy eating habits. In particular by enacting zoning policies to reduce concentrated areas of fast food restaurants. Local officials can also serve as ambassadors for promoting programs and activates that increase access to healthy foods through the support of above activities 1-4.