Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain products and other healthy options are appearing on the shelves of small stores throughout the Cumberland Valley area.
An expanding network of store owners committed to improving the health of communities in Bell, Clay, Jackson and Knox counties have become members of the Healthy2Go transformation initiative. Joining a nationwide movement to improve food offerings at convenience stores, Healthy2Go will help local stores provide residents with healthy alternatives to the fatty, sugary staples which have stocked stores for years.
Healthy2Go is part of Spread the Health Appalachia (STHA), an innovative program to tackle high rates of chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease in the Cumberland Valley.
STHA is a partnership between Microclinic International and the Bell County, Knox County and Cumberland Valley District Health Department and is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like many rural regions of the country, the Cumberland Valley is littered with food deserts, places where affordable, healthy food is hard to find. Those parts of the Cumberland Valley, which are not formally defined as food deserts, still suffer from a shortage of nutritious food offerings. When healthy food options are scarce, rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease tend to be higher.
Nearly 15 percent of local adults are diabetic and more than one-third are obese. These chronic conditions are all closely tied to the poor diet and lack of exercise plaguing the Cumberland Valley. With healthy lifestyle changes, it is possible to avoid these preventable conditions.
“Although I know our eating habits are not the greatest here in the Cumberland Valley, I believe we can work together and start making changes as a community,” said Healthy2Go Coordinator Belinda Prichard. “I hope that seeing fresh fruit and other healthier options in stores will encourage people to think twice before grabbing a bag of chips or a candy bar.”
Healthy foods are taking a more prominent place in Healthy2Go stores, and health education materials help direct customers to the healthier choice. “It can be tricky to know what foods really are healthy,” said Prichard. “We have a simple stoplight coded system to help customers when choosing products.”
To encourage healthy purchases and new cooking practices, Healthy2Go stores are currently giving out free “Recipes to Spread the Health” cookbooks with purchases of healthy products. Full of inexpensive, tasty recipes, Healthy2Go hopes the cookbook will become a staple in kitchens around the Cumberland Valley.
The desire to help the greater community has drawn James Ross, owner of Ross’s Grocery in Knox County, to Healthy2Go.
“We can try to get more people to eat healthier food to promote a healthier lifestyle by making healthy options more easily available,” said Ross.
Another sentiment echoed by many Healthy2Go store owners is a desire to help the next generation. Kentucky suffers from the third highest childhood obesity rate in the country, but owners hope the new access to fresh fruits will teach better eating habits.
Mary Barnes, owner of Wildcat Market in Knox County, hopes to start seeing kids grabbing fruit over candy bars.
The hope is additional small stores in the outlying areas of these counties will join the Healthy2Go corner store network, bringing access to healthier options to more residents of the Cumberland Valley.
To learn more about Healthy2Go or find a store in in your county, visit www.microclinics.org/spreadthehealth.