Thursday, September 24, 2009

Incentives for better food

Today's New York Times contains an article about incentives for full service supermarkets in neighborhoods characterized by little fresh produce, high rates of obesity, and accompanying high rates of chronic disease.  The solution--new zoning laws and tax incentives.  Will it work?  Maybe.

Why don't consumers eat healthy foods?  Price is one reason.  Time required to get the healthy foods is another.  If the supermarkets that locate in the targeted neighborhoods offer healthy foods (including fresh produce) at a reasonable price this will take care of the two issue mentioned--price and access.  However, I think there are still other things.

Healthier foods often take longer to prepare.  Does the proposed solution solve that problem?  No.

Healthier foods may not be preferred for taste.  Does the proposed solution solve that problem?  No.

Are there ways to solve those problems.  Of course, but that takes more investment by the stores.  They need to spend money to market healthy foods.

So the question of whether this policy will improve health in New York City (and other locales that may try it) comes down to a two part question:

(1) Are the incentives strong enough with existing demand in the neighborhoods  such that the businesses can be profitable if they just set themselves up there with a little help on incentives?

(2) If the answer to #1 is no, is it profitable to locate in new neighborhoods and market healthy foods?  In other words, can the demand for the foods that full service markets carry that corner stores don't be shifted enough with inexpensive marketing efforts to make the stores profitable.

I don't know.  It will be interesting to see how well this works.  Perhaps the stores can work with local community leaders so that the local communities "invest in themselves" and use some of their own effort to encourage community members to purchase and use healthier foods.  In short, I'm a little skeptical of the "build it and they will come" approach to providing only supply side incentives.


  1. I think it is a great concept, but with it must come the education on the benefits of eating healthier to the target populations that the markets will service. This is discussed in the New York Times article you posted. It could raise the level of health in the poor neighborhoods if done as a community effort-educationon healthy foods by the schools to the children and education by the healthcare providers to the individuals in the community. It would have to be priced affordably for the families in the neighborhoods. I love Whole Foods and I am committed to buying healthy foods for my family, but it is not called Whole Paycheck by many people for no reason-it cost money to eat healthy! I will say I commend a market like Whole Foods for starting a program to donate money to healthy eating in the schools. If we can get our children to ubderstand the value of eating fresh foods, fruits and vegetables, then we may begin to see a decline in the rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in this country.
    Nancy Cherofsky, MS, FNP-BC

  2. Great point about the need for education and the expense of eating healthy. I think it is critical to remember that health eating often means not only more money but more time as well.

  3. Edith said
    The idea of providing supermarkets that offer fresh healthy foods in targeted neighborhoods is a good one. We have to keep in mind that a lot of these fresh healthy produce are perishable and expensive. I believe that people make food choices based on their income and how much they can afford to spend. Unhealthy food costs less money and is larger in quantity than haelthy fodds. I believe that the key to getting people to eat healthy food is by subsidizing the cost of the food. I also think that children should be taught from childhood the importance of eating healthy foods, which will in turn enable them to become healthy adults, leading to a decrease in heart disease and other comobidities.
    Edith Onua, MS,FNP, BC.

  4. Those of us who live in the city live a fast-paced life, allowing little time for preparation of food. So, cost aside, there just isn't a lot of time to prepare healthy food. More nutritionists are teaching how to do quick fresh meals, since planning meals ahead of time limits purchase and conusmption of fast foods. Rachel Ray has built her career on this.

  5. Anny--it is interesting that even with fast paced lives, kids, etc., there are still plenty of opportunities to make healthy foods. Even ones that take a while. Sometimes it just takes planning. But I do agree that there are only so many hours in a day.