A national best practice for increasing access to fruits and vegetables locally, as well as increasing the incorporation of fruits and vegetables into individuals' diets is by working with corner store owners. Corner store initiatives have been shown to increase both supply and demand for fresh fruits and vegetables in low income neighborhoods and areas with high proportion of racial and ethnic minorities. The Division of Public Health partners with the Regional Environmental Council (REC) to source local produce to participating stores and to continue the availability of produce during winter months.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends expanding farmers' market coverage as a strategy for increasing access to healthy foods and reducing the local burden of chronic disease. Increasing the number of food retailers, including temporary food establishments such as mobile grocers, has been shown to increase food security in traditional food insecure locations. In the summer months, when these options are most abundant, food deserts can shrink and in some cases disappear temporarily. As such, another healthy eating objective of MIM is to increase access to farmers' markets.
Encouraging and supporting community gardens is another strategy to increase healthy food availability. Literature reviews have revealed an association between the presence of community gardens and increased fruit and vegetable intake. One review article recommends that local communities expand access to community gardens by bringing together city planners, health departments, etc. and community groups to identify appropriate locations and pool resources.
Joint Use Agreements
A primary active living strategy for MIM is to establish Joint Use Agreements (JUA) with the Worcester Public Schools (WPS) which will open school playgrounds to the public outside of school hours. The National Prevention Strategy similarly recommends encouraging community design and development to facilitate access to safe, accessible and affordable places for physical activity. Studies have found that playgrounds are a critical resource for physical activity, especially in urban environments. Increased access to facilities and recreational opportunities increases physical activity in children.
Another policy prioritized in the CHIP and MIM is Complete Streets, a policy approach to ensure that streets are designed to accommodate all users; making streets safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists. Research found traffic speed and volume to be among the neighborhood environment features with the greatest association with youth physical activity. People living in areas with lower traffic speeds reported using parks more frequently. A literature review demonstrated the positive impacts that infrastructure changes, like improving sidewalks or adding bike lanes can have on physical activity. Not only do such changes increase physical activity in the community, but also improve attitudes toward active transportation.
Safe Routes to School
Rates of walking and biking to school have fallen nationwide from over 50% in the mid-1960s to less than 15% today, with more students driven to school in personal vehicles. One consequence is less physical activity at a time when childhood obesity is alarmingly high. Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is a nationally promoted program that aims to improve health by increasing physical activity, reducing air pollution and improving safety for pedestrians. Safe Routes to School policies that consider bussing distances, traffic patterns surrounding schools and speed limits can increase the proportion of students that walk to school. Therefore, SRTS is also prioritized by MIM as a means to increase physical activity in our community.
Early Childhood Nutrition
The Division of Public Health, through the MIM initiative, also provides support to organizations working to increase nutrition practices, policies and programs through school, after-school and early childhood programs.
For more detailed information visit Mass in Motion Worcester.