I like to think of myself as someone who believes that each person is allowed to make choices about their lives. In fact, I believe those who have the capacity to make those choices, ought to really utilize this to make choices, hopefully ones that are good as opposed to bad. That’s not to say though that we’ve made our few bad choices either. I hope that we learn from these poor decisions.
However, when it comes to choices on health, I get quite disappointed when as public health professionals, we hear a small minute population say to us “We didn’t ask for healthy choices” within grocery stores, corner stores, or gas stations. It’s sad, because what we know, especially in California, is that healthy options aren’t available everywhere. In fact, even in the Bay Area, there are such things as food deserts. A food desert, according to the USDA, is “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.”
Given that such exists, people who often need healthy options which includes fruits and vegetables aren’t getting them. If you look at data maps of areas where chronic disease is high, you will also see that these are the same areas where there are food deserts too. So, what is public health to do? We talk to grocery stores, corner stores, and gas stations to see if they’re interested in providing healthy options that their consumers would like to purchase as a choice compared to the unhealthier foods. This doesn’t mean that the latter options for food aren’t available. In fact, this doesn’t mean that other unhealthy items found in stores like cigarettes, cigars, vaping products, alcoholic beverages, and others are gone either. I mean, these things are money makers for many of the smaller stores.
So what’s wrong with providing healthier choices in areas that don’t have access to such options? What’s wrong with trying to help a store do a make over to provide such options for people who would like to have them? After all, after talking with many, it seems as if such is welcomed rather than not.
I’m not saying that we ought to completely convert any store to offer healthy options. In fact, I welcome both, because let’s face it, when there are get togethers, holidays, and potlucks, we’ve got to have the healthy and the unhealthy. I like it when I get to have treats on special moments — ice cream, candy, chips and salsa, and the occasional loaded nachos. I’ll admit it, as a health professional, I do eat all of the above. I also make healthy choices too — substituting soda with sparkling water by Calistoga ($1 bottle) or bypassing the frappuccios for a regular coffee with raw sugar cane.
Not everyone knows how to make healthier choices. Before that, not everyone has access to such at all. I didn’t grow up in a middle class family. In fact, I grew up in an environment where ends meet was hard to meet at times. Yet, we were very fortunate to have access to healthy fruits and vegetables, because we lived in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, where various vendors sold fruits and vegetables. This is why, as a child, I had such available at decent prices. Yet, not all children grow up with such choices. Not all adults have access to them either.
I think that if there are people who want to such choices available, why does having such choices offend people? Nothing’s taken away. It’s just that, now, there are more options. Healthier options; ones that can help prevent chronic disease such as pre-diabetes & diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
If you had healthier options available to you, when you didn’t have it before, would you want it?