Op-ed: Northern Kentucky Health Department's Plan4Health is all about healthy food

Posted at 9:00 AM, Apr 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-01 09:09:19-04

Dr. Lynne M. Saddler is district director of health at the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

As we work to improve the health of Northern Kentucky, one concept we return to time and again is, how can we make the healthy choice the easy choice?

When looking at nutrition, we know that many people purchase foods at neighborhood corner stores. They are definitely a convenient option -- customers may stop in several times a week, buying a handful of items each time.

So we know that corner stores are easy to get to for many in our communities -- how can we help them offer healthier foods?

That question was one of several addressed by the Plan4Health grant project. Plan4Health brought together a variety of community partners, including the Northern Kentucky Health Department, the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington, Planning and Development Services of Kenton County, OKI, and the Kenton County Cooperative Extension. With $135,000 in funding from the American Planning Association, partners targeted two goals: promoting healthy eating and improving access to healthy foods.

Dr. Saddler

First, the project partners examined available data. Data from the Kentucky Department for Public Health show that only 7 percent of Kenton County residents ate the recommended number of fruits and vegetables each day. Additional assessments by the Health Department and the Center for Great Neighborhood found that the amount and types of fruits and vegetables at corner stores was limited, if offered at all, and that corner stores faced several barriers in stocking fresh produce.

The Plan4Health team decided to improve access to healthy foods by partnering with four corner stores in Covington: Kimmy’s Korner, Guiterrez Deli, Bob’s Food Shop and Bill’s Food Market.

The grant partners worked with store owners to put systems in place so the stores could carry healthier foods. All four stores used grant funding to purchase additional freezer and freezer equipment to stock frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables and they received assistance with identifying suppliers.

Once these pieces were in place, the Plan4Health team assisted with marketing the new offerings to customers. They provided signage in both English and Spanish. At several events in the winter and spring of 2016, free samples of the healthy foods, along with recipes, were available to customers.

All of the stores were located within one mile of Covington schools, so a partnership with the school district provided more than $1,600 in Healthy Food Bucks to students and their families to purchase the healthy foods.

A year after the grant project, Kimmy’s Korner reported that they still sell a lot of fresh bananas and apples, though mainly to adults rather than kids. Frozen vegetables sell so well at the store that management moved them to be closer to checkout.

The implementation phase of the grant wrapped up in April 2016, but three of the stores have continued offering the healthy foods. Plan4Health partners are now determining how to build upon the Plan4Health successes now that the grant project has ended.

We are faced with dozens of health choices each day. Customers of the Covington stores now have more options -- maybe it’s a banana rather than a candy bar for that late afternoon snack, or a bag of frozen vegetables rather than potato chips for the last-minute side dish for dinner.

When it’s easier to be healthy, people tend to do so. It’s one way we can all plan for health.