Baltimore City Receives $750,000 Three-Year State Grant To Launch Baltimarket Healthy Stores Initiative and Reduce Youth Obesity

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Baltimore City Receives $750,000 Three-Year State Grant To Launch Baltimarket Healthy Stores Initiative

and Reduce Youth Obesity

BALTIMORE, MD (February 26, 2014) - A $750,000 three-year state grant awarded this month will enable the Baltimore City Health Department to expand efforts at reducing childhood obesity by launching a Baltimarket Healthy Stores program addressing food inequities for residents living in food deserts. 

Baltimarket Healthy Stores will reach 12,100 people during the three year period by supporting 18 corner stores in successfully stocking healthier items, organizing 75 youth as Neighborhood Food Advocates to assist with corner store transformations, and conducting nutrition education and environmental interventions within three grocery stores.

The community-based program will transform the retail food environment in Baltimore’s food deserts, focusing especially on the West Baltimore Health Enterprise Zone (HEZ).  Food deserts are areas with low-vehicle ownership, high poverty and little access to healthy foods.

“The Baltimarket Healthy Stores project will lay the groundwork for policy change to promote and sustain healthy food options and strengthen food equity in our communities,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

“We are very grateful to the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission for awarding these grant funds to the Health Department,” said Oxiris Barbot, M.D., Commissioner of Health for Baltimore City.  “Corner stores stocked with healthier options can become a community health asset rather than a community health risk.”

The goal of Baltimarket Healthy Stores is to prevent youth obesity by improving access to low-cost healthy foods at both small corner stores and larger grocery stores serving food desert communities. The initiative will promote nutrition knowledge and skills and increase healthy food access while addressing inequities to improve the diet and health of residents living within food deserts.

Baltimarket Healthy Stores will operate in 18 small corner stores located in the 21216, 21217, 21223, and 21229 zip codes in the West Baltimore Health Enterprise Zone (HEZ) and in several grocery stores that serve food deserts. Program staff will work with youth in afterschool programs and with retailers in these targeted communities.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to educate our children and hopefully change some poor eating habits,” said Samuel Ross, M.D., chief executive officer of Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, the lead agency for the West Baltimore Health Enterprise Zone. “The key is to change the behaviors now before they become lifelong problems of unhealthy choices.”

One in five Baltimore residents and one in four school-aged children live in a food desert, according to Baltimore’s 2012 food desert map.  A 2009 survey of smaller-sized grocery stores in Baltimore by the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that three-quarters of the stores sold no fruits and two-thirds sold no vegetables.

“Access to healthy food options is a key determinant of health,” said Dr. Barbot. “Risks for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are strongly tied to diet, and research has found consistent evidence that diet is greatly affected by one's food environment. The unavailability of healthy foods has contributed to poor health outcomes in communities and is fueling Baltimore’s current obesity epidemic.” 

Baltimarket Healthy Stores will complement existing Baltimarket programs including the Health Department’s flagship Virtual Supermarket Program, a national, award-winning initiative that uses online grocery ordering and delivery to bring food to community sites in food desert neighborhoods, and the Neighborhood Food Advocates initiative, which engages and organizes residents in food desert communities to develop plans of addressing food inequity.

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