THE SOUTH LA FOOD DESERT
Food deserts are all over the US, in urban and rural areas, sometimes in places that ironically used to grow food, and usually in low-income communities. Sure there’s stuff to eat, but it’s probably not food you should be eating regularly (plenty of calories, few nutrients). Fast food signs dot the landscape, but you can drive for miles without seeing a healthy place to eat. There are few supermarkets and a lot of land in between them. Residents buy food and drinks from local markets selling unhealthy stuff with an unnaturally long shelf life. Junk food ads surround you. As a result, folks are overfed but undernourished, prone to overweight, obesity, diabetes and chronic illnesses
In South Los Angeles, food deserts are manifested in the typical manner: mainstream grocery stores are rare, and when they are present, the quality of the food is poor and the prices high. What sets South Los Angeles apart from other urban food deserts is its size. This community is home to roughly 800,000 people, and spans 60 square miles depending on how the boundaries are drawn. South L.A. is truly a federation of smaller communities. Yet each one is overrun with liquor stores and other small “corner stores”, at times referred to as convenience stores. Few of these stores sell fresh food at all; if they do have fresh items, the selection is limited and the items are overpriced and inferior. Liquor is the dominant product in most of the stores, creating another set of public health concerns related to substance abuse and addiction.
The South L.A. Healthy Eating Active Community Initiative (HEAC) is one of six sites in a state-wide initiative funded by The California Endowment (TCE) with the goal of reducing childhood obesity and diabetes by increasing access to nutritious food and physical activity opportunities for children and families.
A policy-based, community-driven initiative, HEAC:
* Trains and empowers youth, parents, and community leaders about environmental influences affecting food choices and physical activity behavior and the health consequences of poor diets and physical inactivity.
* Works directly with communities to build a sense of pride for and ownership of the neighborhoods in which they live, thereby creating a constituency of supporters for policies that improve food and physical activity environments.
* Develops leadership roles for young adults, who often experience social, cultural, and economic hardships while living in resource-poor communities. A strong component of South LA HEAC is its youth involvement with program goals and activities. Students engage in meaningful work as they learn to advocate for safer, healthier neighborhoods.
* Builds a cadre of young citizens who are responsible for creating sustainable changes leading to a reduction of childhood obesity and diabetes in South LA.
HEAC YOUTH AMBASSADORS
From 2007-2009, the South L.A. Healthy Eating Active Community Initiative (HEAC) and Public Matters worked on a highly successful public health, civic engagement and leadership development project with high school students from The Accelerated School (TAS).