Friday, February 28, 2014

What can we learn from Baltimore's healthy corner store initiative? Think data.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Photo from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Food in the Desert, an article in the Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine, goes beyond the traditional food desert considerations-exemplified by calls for placing grocery stores in areas without them-and asks about the food available at the stores which are in low-income areas: corner stores.
With supermarkets out of easy reach, Baltimoreans living in food deserts often rely on corner stores and carryouts for their meals. According to 2012 data compiled by the School's Center for a Livable Future (CLF), the city teems with 440 such corner stores and 709 carryouts, while boasting just 47 supermarkets.

Hunger advocates in and outside government in the District of Columbia are practically aware of the Hopkins findings.   In fact, the D.C. Healthy Corner Store Program has worked
to reduce food insecurity and improve D.C. residents' health by analyzing ways that small retailers could improve customer access to fresh produce, low-fat snacks, nutritious beverages, and other healthy foods in neighborhoods without adequate supermarkets and other sources of affordable healthy food.

The fruit of the D.C. Healthy Corner Store Program labors are detailed in D.C. Corner Stores Aren’t Just for Junk Food Anymore just published by the Washington City Paper.

Still, DC can learn from Baltimore.   And the lesson to be learned is about data.   There is an enormous value in collecting and using data to make policy and practice decisions.   DC should consider engaging a research organization, a medical school or public health program, for example.   Then, the data related to healthy corner stores could be mashed up with the health outcomes of residents who live and work near the corner stores, transportation data, and much more to present a more robust picture of communities and individual health and well being.

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