Small, friendly and
convenient, bodegas are veritable community institutions. Yet when it comes to
shopping for healthy food, your friendly neighborhood bodega is not the first
place that comes to mind.
That could be about to
Sunday at 11 a.m., City
Council Health Committee Chairman Joel Rivera, HealthCorps, an educational
program founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz; the New York State Hispanic Chamber of
Commerce, the Latino Restaurant Association, the Bodega Association and Make the Road by Walking, a Brooklyn-based community organization, will announce on
the steps of City Hall the launch of the Healthy Bodega Initiative.
This initiative is designed
to create greater access to healthier food choices for low-income shoppers. In
other words, the idea is to get bodega owners to stock more low-fat milk,
fruits, vegetables and other healthy food. The fact that the bodega owners
association is onboard should make the campaign a lot easier.
"One of the best
defenses against obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease is to snack on
fresh fruits and vegetables," Rivera said. "Yet many New Yorkers
still do not have many healthy food choices readily available in their
With obesity, hypertension
and diabetes growing at alarming rates in the city, it is more important than
ever for every community to have access to the healthy food choices Rivera
"I am not that old – I
just turned 46 – but when I was training as a surgeon, I don’t remember anyone
younger than 50 with these kind of problems," said Oz, a celebrity author
frequently featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." "But in recent
years I have seen more and more 25-year-olds with clogged arteries. And I began
to think how I can make a difference."
His answer was HealthCorps,
an innovative program designed to educate children about healthy living. Funded
in part through a grant from the City Council, HealthCorps has coordinators in
28 high schools across every borough.
Teaching nutrition – letting
kids know about healthy foods, how to reduce their sugar intake and explaining
why fad diets do more harm than good – is a big part of the HealthCorps
program. It also motivates students to share that knowledge with their communities.
The HealthCorps schools will
work to create health coalitions in their neighborhoods to bring storeowners
and communities together. With the help of the Brooklyn-based Make the Road by Walkingand
other community groups, they will seek to get bodegas to stock healthier food
in to allow local communities to change their eating habits.
"By collaborating with
the Health Department’s Healthy Bodegas Initiative," said HealthCorps’
executive director Michelle Bouchard, "we’re helping our students become
educated consumers and activists who bring valuable newfound knowledge to their
Recently, a new policy
adopted by the New York State’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) gave Healthy Bodegas an extra push.
WIC’s subsidies are of
tremendous importance for low-income women and children as well as for
neighborhood food stores. Now all milk bought with WIC vouchers for children 2
years old and older must be 1% milkfat. Also, beginning on Jan. 1, WIC will
issue vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables.
HealthCorps will be working
to let people know about these changes.
As Rivera said, "The
simple [food] choices we make today will reward us with a much longer and