Published on: February 12, 2014by Kevin Coupe
Apparently, the old saw is true. You can lead a horse to water - or even bring the water to the horse - but you can't make him drink.
National Public Radio's The Salt has a story about a study done by Penn State University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which looked at shopping habits in a Philadelphia-area "food desert" before and after a new full-service supermarket was built there.
Stephen Matthews, professor in Penn State's departments of sociology, anthropology and demography, says that the results of the study were surprising - there was no discernible impact on consumption patterns.
"Now, to be fair, the time was short," The Salt writes. "The store was only open for six months before residents were surveyed. Matthews says most residents knew that the store was there and that it offered healthy food. But only 26 percent said it was their regular 'go to' market. And, as might be expected, those who lived close to the store shopped there most regularly.
"Matthews says the findings dovetail with other work, and simply point to the obvious: Lots more intervention is needed to change behavior. For one thing, we're all used to routine, and many of us will just keep shopping where we've been shopping, even if a newer, more convenient and bountiful store moves in. But more than that, he says, many people, particularly in low-income food deserts, just aren't used to buying or preparing healthy meals — they haven't had the opportunity, until now."
Alex Ortega, a public health research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), tells The Salt that "the next part of the intervention is to create demand, so the community wants to come to the store and buy healthy fruits and vegetables and go home and prepare those foods in a healthy way, without lots of fat, salt or sugar."
According to the story, "Ortega directs a UCLA project that converts corner stores into hubs of healthy fare in low-income neighborhoods of East Los Angeles. He and colleagues work with community leaders and local high school students to help create that demand for nutritious food. Posters and signs promoting fresh fruits and vegetables hang in corner stores, such as the Euclid Market in Boyle Heights, and at bus stops. There are nutrition education classes in local schools, and cooking classes in the stores themselves."
So, in other words, it isn't just a matter of making sure that the horse and the water are in the same place. To really have an impact on public health, it is important to employ the exact same marketing and merchandising techniques that are used to get people to buy $5 cups of coffee, luxury automobiles, and high-definition televisions.
- KC's View: