Karen Henry
Life Span Institute

Project helps Latino mom-and-pop stores, restaurants offer healthy choices

Fri, 08/29/2014

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

KU’s Work Group for Community Health and Development is enacting 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 mom-and-pop stores and restaurants in neighborhoods where food retailers with fresh produce, eggs, whole grain and dairy products are scarce or nonexistent. Five stores and restaurants in the predominately Latino 66101 ZIP code joined the initiative in August, its first month of operation.

The effort to improve nutrition in Wyandotte Country is one of the health promotion strategies by 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, Kansas, and Wyandotte County who are disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes, obesity, asthma and other health conditions.

Kelly Harrington, a community mobilizer with the KU Work Group, has assisted tienda owners Graciela Martinez, proprietor of Abarrotes Delicias at 3137 State Ave., and Irma Ruiz at El Poblano Mini Market at 1003 Osage Ave. in becoming Health for All Food Retailers. She advised them on product placement, pricing strategies and promotion through store signs and social media. She also helped the store owners locate a wholesale produce outlet and secured refrigerators and produce display units for them.

“We work with the owner or manager to develop a plan to incorporate more healthy food items in the store after we do an interview and store inventory,” Harrington said. “We then present them with several options that fit the goals and capacity of the store and agree on the required actions, timeline and resources that will hopefully boost their sales and attract new customers as well as increase opportunities for members of the community 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. 

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.”

The Latino Health for All Coalition is also approaching Latino restaurant owners about becoming Health for All restaurants by encouraging changes such as labeling existing healthy menu items, offering more baked or broiled options and allowing customers to order half-servings at a reduced cost.

“We want to understand the impact that these changes have on the food environment,” said Vicki Collie-Akers, associate director of health promotion research for KU’s Work Group on Community Health and Development. “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 in Kansas City, Kansas.”

Launched by the KU Work Group in 2009 with 40 community partners, including El Centro, K-State Research & Extension and KU Medical Center, the Latino Health for All Coalition also promotes physical activity and access to health services to address Latino health disparities in Wyandotte County.

During its five-year history, the Coalition has brought about more than 65 new programs, policies and practices in the low-income, predominately Latino areas of Wyandotte County, Collie-Akers said. Along with the Health for All Food Retail and Restaurant Initiative, the group has guided the creation of a community garden, four school and 25 residential gardens; conducted 84 nutrition education outreach sessions; launched physical activity classes at four churches; established a youth soccer league and converted an underutilized park space into a soccer field.

The Latino Health for All Coalition is funded by grants to the KU Work Group from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, the Kansas Health Foundation, the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the University of California–Los Angeles Health-by-Default REACH project.

Top photo: Graciela Martinez, right, proprietor of Abarrotes Delicias, worked with Kelly Harrington, KU community mobilizer, to become an official Health for All tienda, offering and prominently displaying fresh produce, eggs, milk and cold bottled water in her small neighborhood store. 

Bottom photo: Irma Ruiz, owner of El Poblano Mini Market, one of the only food retail outlets in the Armourdale district of Kansas City, Kansas, began offering fresh produce and other healthy low-fat items in her store this summer through to the Health for All initiative, directed by the KU Work Group for Community Health and Development with the Latino Health for All Coalition. 

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