UCLA helps convert East L.A. corner stores from 'food deserts' into healthy food oases
To determine whether stores that prominently display healthy food items while relegating chips, soda and candy to the back of the store can be financially sustainable and improve the health behaviors of a community, the UCLA–USC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities at the UCLA School of Public Health, along with Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, announced Oct. 29 the conversion of the first of four corner stores in East Los Angeles to offer healthier food choices.
The first converted store to be reopened was the YASH La Casa Market on Hammel Street, which underwent a substantial overhaul to both the exterior and interior, including the removal of boards and re-bar that covered the front of the store, the removal of all soda and beer advertising posters, new paint, and larger windows to allow for natural light to the interior.
Inside, displays were rearranged to more prominently display healthier food items at the front of the store, including canned fruits and vegetables, fresh produce, bottled waters and healthy snacks. A juice bar with high tables and stools will also be a new feature, along with free Wi-Fi. An empty lot at the back of the store was converted into a vegetable garden with a sitting area for customers.
The conversion was funded by the National Institutes of Health as part of an ongoing effort to reduce cardiovascular disease risk among Latinos in East Los Angeles, where high rates of obesity-related chronic diseases are the norm. East L.A. is a neighborhood that is considered by many to be a "food desert" due to its poor access to comprehensive grocery stores and foods recommended for a healthy and balanced diet and its preponderance of fast food restaurants.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina (District 1) was on hand, along with UCLA faculty and community members, to celebrate the reopening of the converted store.
"The conversion of this corner store is an important step in the right direction for the residents of East Los Angeles," Molina said. "I would like to applaud the Songu Family, owners of the YASH La Casa Market, for allowing this wonderful transformation that will help improve the health of the residents of our community."
In addition to the store conversions, the community-based projects also include an intensive home-environment intervention involving families in which one member is newly enrolled in a diabetes clinic, as well as an evaluation of vascular function and cardiovascular disease risk biomarkers among individuals of various generational and immigrant statuses in order to increase understanding of the basis for the Latino "acculturation paradox" in cardiovascular disease risk.
"These store conversions are part of a comprehensive intervention to understand the effects of immigration and acculturation on health outcomes," said Michael Prelip, principal investigator for the Corner Store Makeover in East Los Angeles and a professor of community health sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health. "We hope our findings will lead to improvements in the overall health of underserved communities."
The project is also working with high school students from various East Los Angeles high schools to promote corner store conversions and encourage healthier food options and meal-preparation strategies.
As part of the project, the four converted stores will be evaluated over two years using community surveys, patron surveys and observations. Final results of entire evaluation will be available in two to three years.
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