BROWARD COUNTY – Florida Department of Health in Broward County asks, “Kids at convenience stores – what could possibly go wrong”? For starters, how about cigarettes, mini-cigars, candy, junk food and sodas.
The Florida Department of Health in Broward County, Broward Regional Health Planning Council and the YMCA of South Florida have teamed up to combat those unhealthy choices in a new way. They created a youth-led program that enlists owners of stores near schools to emphasize healthy products and downplay the unhealthy temptations. Six stores have signed up in the initial stage.
The Good Neighbor Store initiative is not asking merchants to stop selling unhealthy items, just to give healthier options more prominent locations on the shelves, says Dr. Paula Thaqi, Director of DOH-Broward. Stores that cooperate fully may eligible for grants of up to $10,000 from the Health Foundation of South Florida.
“We want to give them a number of different incentives to make the stores a healthier environment for the community,” Thaqi says.
The project will deploy teams of students to visit stores, assess the situation and suggest ways to reduce the negative influences of unhealthy products and kid-targeting advertising. Organizers hope merchants find it hard to say no to teens.
The project is part of the Eat Smart Broward movement in BRHPC’s Transforming Our Community’s Health (TOUCH) Initiative, which is funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says TOUCH Director Teina Phillips.
The project began earlier this year and is being implemented in middle and high schools. Kids have been trained in “Go, Slow, Whoa” system, which rates foods on a scale of healthy (full of nutrition) to unhealthy (high-sugar or highly processed foods and beverages). They also are members of SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco).
TOUCH and DOH-Broward identified 40 stores near schools that could be targeted. The first six stores that signed pledges to participate are near Dillard, Boyd Anderson and Blanche Ely high schools, Lauderhill 6-12 School, Gulfstream Middle School in Hallandale Beach and in Fort Lauderdale’s Sistrunk Boulevard area. More locations are coming later.
The next step is for a team of students to visit each store and make recommendations. Suggestions could include moving unhealthy food to the back of the store, offering more healthy foods in the front of the store, and dropping or downplaying tobacco ads.
In January, each team plans to present their findings to the community and city officials.