By Michael M. Grynbaum- New York Times
Shoppers entering the C-Town grocery store on Crescent Avenue in the Bronx were greeted on Wednesday with heaping mounds of fresh avocados, mangoes and pineapples. Sodas and junk food, meanwhile, were nowhere in sight.
The lush, corn-syrup-free display was part of a new collaboration between Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration and community grocers to encourage healthier eating choices in some of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods, where more than half of the population has been deemed overweight or obese.
Dozens of bodegas, supermarkets and convenience stores in two Bronx neighborhoods have agreed to prominently feature nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables near their entrances, while shifting sweeter, less healthy drinks and snacks to the back.
Water and lower-calorie drinks will be displayed at eye-level and in the impulse-buy racks near cash registers, and city-produced “Shop Healthy” banners will be draped in the aisles. Wholesale distributors in the area also plan to create incentives for supermarkets to stock healthier foods.
While only a few of the stores have started to make these changes, the city’s health department said that it had commitments from about 150 food establishments in the area, and that the program could eventually be extended into other boroughs.
“We believe that to tackle the epidemic of obesity, we need to do it on multiple fronts,” Linda I. Gibbs, the city’s deputy mayor for health and human services, said in a news conference at the C-Town. Ms. Gibbs praised the program for integrating community groups and local retailers into a broader effort to make sure shoppers have easy access to, and awareness of, healthier food options.
Obesity, and learning how to fight it, is viewed as a priority by the Bloomberg administration, which has earned international attention for its plan to restrict sales of large sodas and sugary drinks. In Belmont, the C-Town’s neighborhood, 70 percent of residents are considered obese or overweight, and nearly half drink one or more sugary drinks a day, said Dr. Thomas A. Farley, the health commissioner.
State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, acknowledged at the event that his home borough has been ranked as the unhealthiest county in New York State. But he said he was hopeful that the visibility of the new initiative would erase notions in his community that fresh foods were too expensive or too hard to obtain.
“We’re saying to stores, ‘You can present healthier options to the people who shop at your stores every day.’ Still making money, still making sure that you have a successful business, but presenting healthier choices to people,” Mr. Rivera, who noted that he had lost 30 pounds last year, said to applause.
At several bodegas and delis near the C-Town, however, sodas and chips remained prominently displayed, and many customers and employees scoffed at Mr. Bloomberg’s large-soda restrictions, saying shoppers should be able to buy what they want.
Back at C-Town, a worker was seen restocking a glass-front refrigerator near the cash registers about two hours after city officials had left the store. During the news conference, the refrigerator had been filled entirely with bottles of Dasani water; the worker said he had been asked to replace those with 20-ounce containers of Coca-Cola and other sodas.