Red and White becomes first to join the effort
(SAVANNAH, Ga.) Savannahians who live in low-income neighborhoods often have a poor quality diet and the health problems associated with it. Now, Healthy Savannah, the City of Savannah and local grocery stores are using grant funds to tackle that problem where it starts for many families – at the grocery store checkout aisle. Participating grocery stores will join the Healthy Checkout initiative by making sure fresh produce and other healthy choices are attractively displayed near the checkout lines.
The first grocers to join the effort are the Savannah area Red and White stores. The stores have already moved produce displays near checkouts and will celebrate their participation in the project by giving away 1000 free reusable fabric shopping bags, while supplies last, to customers who buy fresh produce during December. The event kick-off is scheduled for noon on Saturday, December 11, at the Habersham Village Red and White.
“Our goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Paula Kreissler, Healthy Savannah’s executive director. “We’re actively looking for grocery stores that are willing to commit to placing healthy foods like fruits and vegetables near the checkout lanes. Red and White is our first partner of what we hope will become many grocery stores that are committed to helping all customers stay healthy.”
Funding for the initiative comes from the YMCA of Coastal Georgia and Healthy Savannah through funding from the Centers for Disease Control’s Racial & Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant. Addressing the Healthy Checkout Initiative specifically is an additional grant from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
This particular initiative tackles a true hot spot of impulse buying for grocery shoppers. As they wait to check out, shoppers typically are confronted with an array of candy and snacks displayed to tempt their way into shopping carts.
“Stocking healthy food near the register as an alternative to the candy bars and chips typically found there is a priority for us in serving our customers,” said Mike Jones, store owner. “Whether newly transplanted college students, families with young children, or elderly neighbors who have shopped here for years, all of our shoppers deserve access to fresh, nutritious food. It is important to us because it matters to the health of all we serve.”
Kreissler and her team are also reaching out to other grocery and corner stores across the Savannah area to encourage the widespread adoption of healthy checkout displays to include fresh fruits and vegetables. For more information, visit https://healthysavannah.org/healthy-checkout/
Why does this matter? Statistics compiled by Healthy Savannah reveal alarming facts about the impact of grocery buying. Savannahians living in low-income neighborhoods who also have a poor quality diet are 25% more susceptible to COVID-19 infection, those statistics show. This is an alarming statistic in a growing database of information being compiled by Healthy Savannah that access to healthy foods can have a positive impact on healthy choices at the store register.
“All across Savannah, we have neighborhoods with disproportionately less access to grocery stores and healthy food options. Often the only food access within walking distance is at convenience stores,” said Kreissler. “Change is urgently needed to forge a path towards health equity for these citizens.”
Healthy Savannah has found that 17.6% of all residents in Chatham County are food insecure and 21.8% of children in Chatham County are food insecure. On top of that, 60% of children 2-5 years of age consume more than the recommended amount of sugar and nearly three-quarters of all food advertisements use familiar characters to target children.
“Chronic diseases remain a threat to well-being for residents of Savannah,” said Ruby Hallam, MPH, CHES, nutrition manager at YMCA of Coastal Georgia. “Policies and systemic structures continue to limit accessibility to healthy food options for individuals in low-wealth communities, which is directly linked to poor health outcomes.”
In a 2020 Healthy Savannah community survey, most respondents said they currently do their shopping and purchase healthy food at grocery stores (86%) and convenience stores (45%). About half (49%) of respondents ate fresh vegetables every day and fresh fruit every day (45%). More than two-thirds of participants said finding healthy food at neighborhood stores was important to them.
Kreisler believes that Savannahians would like to see more healthy food at grocery stores near the check-out areas but also want greater access to healthy food within their communities. Almost all of the participants in Healthy Savannah’s 2021 focus groups indicated that if healthy options were available near the checkout they would buy them instead of junk food.
ABOUT THE YMCA OF COASTAL GEORGIA/HEALTHY SAVANNAH GRANT FOR RACIAL AND ETHNIC APPROACHES TO COMMUNITY HEALTH: In September 2018, Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia were awarded a five-year, $3.4 million grant called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. This funding, awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been deployed by the Savannah/Chatham County project team to reduce health inequities experienced by Black residents in low-wealth neighborhoods. The local project is called Healthy Opportunities Powering Equity, or HOPE. Its aim is to increase the availability of high-quality nutrition, increase physical activity by creating greater access to safe places to walk, run, bike and play, and foster stronger connections between people and the healthcare providers who serve them. Working with more than 200 community partners and organizations, the team’s work elevates the health and wellness of our community through policy, systems, and environmental change.
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