Can you tell us a little about the Creating Healthy Communities Program?
The Creating Healthy Communities (CHC) program is administered through the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) by the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CHC funds 23 counties in Ohio to carry out the mission and vision of the program.
Our Mission is committed to preventing and reducing chronic disease statewide. Through cross-sector collaboration, we are activating communities to improve access to and affordability of healthy food, increase opportunities for physical activity, and assure tobacco-free living where Ohioans live, work and play. By implementing sustainable evidence-based strategies, CHC is creating a culture of health.
Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice is our vision.
What is your role at the Ohio Department of Health.
As a Public Health Nutritionist and Program Consultant for the CHC program, I provide training and technical assistance to local counties who are implementing strategies to increase access to healthy food, increase physical activity opportunities, and increase tobacco-free environments. The CHC state staff provide monthly conference calls and 3 in-person trainings a year to help our 23 counties to be successful in their work.
How does the Good Food Here Program and the healthy checkout initiatives tie in to the equation?
Good Food Here is a healthy foods promotional brand for use in small retail venues including corner and convenience stores. Increasing options to fresh fruits and vegetables in areas where they are not as readily available is one small step to decreasing Ohioans’ risks for obesity and other chronic diseases. Store owners will be given materials to advertise fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, leans meats, and low calorie/low sodium snacks. With help from Better World Advertising, we have developed a creative image and the message of our brand, which will launch in small retail venues across Ohio in April 2015.
Healthy checkout aisles is a newer initiative for Ohio. As part of a larger chronic disease prevention grant, ODH received funding from the CDC to work on this strategy. We currently have six local counties in the state working with grocery stores in high need areas on implementing healthy checkout lanes. Ohio ranks 40th in the nation for health.
Where is the program being implemented?
Increasing healthy food options in small retail settings has been gaining momentum in Ohio during the past few years. The Good Food Here marketing materials are available to anyone in the state who is interested in implementing healthy small retail. We are working primarily through our CHC counties and other partners in Ohio who are funded by CDC for this work.
What are some of your current wins?
Our funded counties, who mainly work through local health departments, are instrumental in making the healthy retail initiative work. These dedicated staff members are educating local retail establishments not only on the importance of selling healthy food items to their customers, but also how this can help increase sales and customer satisfaction, ultimately improving their business. Many stores that have received technical assistance from our CHC coordinators have seen increases in produce sales.
Any current challenges?
Working on a larger scale to change the environment takes time and patience. Being able to implement a successful healthy retail initiative includes addressing the challenges of food distribution, recruiting interested store owners, and ensuring that stores make a profit. Once implemented, healthy retail and healthy checkout lane strategies can have long-term sustainable effects that impact large populations.
Do you see this type of initiative coming to the grocery store in the future? If so what are some roadblocks you might expect.
Yes. With the overall increase in healthy food options available to consumers, I think the healthy checkout lane strategy is one of the next steps in the healthy food movement. Potential roadblocks could include limited buy-in from grocery store owners who are willing to make these changes. Small corner stores are usually owned and operated privately so it is easier to work with them to make changes. Larger grocery store chains will likely require approval from a corporate level, which will add extra steps to the process of offering healthy food items in non-traditional areas, such as the checkout aisle.
Any success stories you want to share?
The CHC program publishes success stories annually, which can be accessed at our website. One of my favorite quotes from a success story written about a healthy corner store initiative comes from the store owner himself, “Kids are choosing bananas instead of candy bars. The produce stand has increased my sales and redemption of WIC vouchers. I couldn’t be happier.”
Sarah Ginnetti is a Registered Dietitian and Program Consultant with the Ohio Department of Health’s Creating Healthy Communities program. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in Dietetics from the University of Dayton and completed her dietetic internship at the Cleveland Clinic. Sarah is an active member of the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists where she is a member of the Membership Communications and Outreach Committee and has also participated in the Leadership Development Program. Sarah has presented nationally at the American Public Health Association’s annual conference, as well as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE).