Greening a food desert in Wyandotte County

Greening a food desert in Wyandotte County

KU community health and development research staff are on the ground in Wyandotte County helping build healthier communities one tienda—or neighborhood store—at a time.

Under the leadership of Vicki Collie-Akers, the Work Group for Community Health and Development is operating the Health for All Food Retail and Restaurant Initiative with the Kansas City-based Latino Health for All Coalition. The project aims to increase access to healthy foods at existing family-run stores in neighborhoods where food retailers with fresh produce, eggs, whole grain and dairy products are scarce or nonexistent.

Improving nutrition in Wyandotte Country is one of the health promotion strategies of the Coalition’s Nutrition Action Committee with technical and scientific support from the Work Group. The ultimate goal is to reduce diabetes and cardiovascular disease among Latinos in Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County who are disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes, obesity, asthma and other health conditions.

The Work Group community mobilizers assisted Graciela Martinez, proprietor of Abarrotes Delicias at 3137 State Ave., to become a Health for All Food retailer employing merchandizing practices including product placement, pricing strategies and promotion through branded store signs and social media.

“We work with the owner or manager to develop a plan to incorporate healthier food items in the store,” Collie-Akers said. “We present them with several options that fit the goals and capacity of the store and then agree on the required actions, timeline and resources that will hopefully boost sales and increase opportunities for community members to choose healthy foods.”

These options include stocking cold bottled water at eye level in the soft drinks case, offering low-fat milk, eggs and whole-wheat tortillas, and prominently displaying and offering discounts on produce.

“We want to understand the impact that these changes have on the food environment,” said Collie-Akers, associate director of health promotion research for the Work Group. “We will be examining how many people are reached or experience these changes and how these changes improve the overall landscape for accessing healthy foods.”

Martinez of Abarrotes Delicias even added her own personal endorsement to the Health for All display of fresh fruit in her store: “Tu cuerpo es tu más precida posesió asi que cuida de él” — “Your body is your most precious possession, take care of it.”