Epidemiology Reflection #1 Axinn

After exploring the Community Health Survey, our group identified the Bronx as the New York City borough with statistically significant lower consumption of fruits and vegetables than other boroughs. An analysis of the data of the Community Health Survey, indicated that the Bronx, when compared with the other boroughs, contained one of the highest percentages of residents who consumed zero servings of fruits and vegetables per day. On average, the results of the Community Health Survey revealed that 12.2% of the population of New York City consumed no servings of fruits and vegetables per day, 77.7% consumed one to four servings, and 10.1% consumed five or more servings. In Kingsbridge, an area in central Bronx, 17.7% of the population consumed no servings of fruits and vegetables regularly, a percentage far above the City’s average. This statistic is particularly concerning given the small quantity of fruits and vegetables that qualify as one serving. According to the Community Health Survey, one medium apple, a handful of broccoli, or a cup of carrots equal one serving of fruits and vegetable.

There is a startling disparity in the consumption of fruits and vegetables between Kingsbridge and other higher income areas in the City. When you compare Kingsbridge with my neighborhood of Park Slope, the statistics reveal a divide of 13% between the neighborhoods reports of residents consuming no servings of fruits and vegetables. In Park Slope, only 3.8% of the population reported they consume no servings of fruits and vegetables per day compared with 17.7% in Kingsbridge. Our group believed that the disparity of reported consumption of fruits and vegetables might be linked to the high costs and limited access to fruits and vegetables in low income areas. When compared with the high income area of Park Slope, Kingsbridge has a higher availability of fast food options which are less expensive than the cost of fruits and vegetables.  

Access to reasonably priced fruits and vegetables is a critical component of consumer consumption. One explanation for the Bronx’s conspicuously low consumption of fruits and vegetables is that the residents of the Bronx lack access to grocery stores and markets where they can purchase fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices. The Bronx also has a disproportionately high number of fast food restaurants in comparison with other boroughs. Fast food chains tend to offer highly processed foods at low prices, appealing to low-income families. These fast food chains typically offer limited to no servings of vegetable and fruit in their dishes.

In order to combat the limited availability of healthy eating options in the Bronx, my group proposed to open the Kingsbridge Food Coop, a community oriented grocery store offering healthy foods at reasonable prices. We believe that a Coop would not only provide residents in the Bronx with access to healthy eating options, but could provide community health and wellness programs that foster healthy eating. With $30,000 of our budget designated to community organized events, one of the goals of the coop is to educate members on nutrition and health. The coop hopes to host events seasonally that teach members the importance of healthy eating and a balanced diet. Food demonstrations with samplings coupled with discussion based conversations with the coop’s nutritionist, will inform the members of the community of the benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption, stressing the positive correlation between a balanced diet and disease prevention. Our hope is that members will learn not only the nutritional benefits of eating fruits and vegetables but also how to cook and enjoy a range of healthful foods. Our hope is that these healthier choices of foods would lead to other healthy lifestyle choices.

Working with my group on our grant proposal, has deepened my commitment to issues of equitable access to healthy foods. Exploring the situation in Kingsbridge has motivated me to think about the role I can have in minimizing this gap. This issue of access to healthy foods has been on my mind since last year, when we had several conversations in biology class about the food deserts in low income neighborhoods on New York. I am particularly fascinated by the science of healthy eating. When I learned about the role of macromolecules in biology class, I began to understand the biological makeup of food and the specific health benefits that are associated with a balanced diet. I was hooked by the idea that the food we choose to put into our bodies impacts the way our bodies feel and respond to stimulus. As a result, I have encouraged myself to eat a more balanced diet, focusing on whole, real food ingredients, and encouraged my family to cook more meals at home. This project was the next step in helping me apply these biological principles beyond my own life to a larger population within an area experiencing food inequity.

Asking people to make lifestyle changes is hard and routines can be difficult to break. The Kingsbridge Food Coop would have to spend significant amounts of time and resources to gain members and create significant lifestyle changes. I believe, though, that once the initial group of members sign-up and experience the benefits of both access to fresh foods and the supportive community within the coop, the place will take off. Overtime, I imagine the coop will be a source of light and inspiration in lives of its members and beyond. While there will always be some holdouts, my hope is that fruit and vegetable consumption rises to the level of neighborhoods such as Park Slope and that income and access no longer deter healthy eating.

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