Megan Radamaker is a MCH Trainee from the University of Minnesota. She is a second-year graduate student in the Coordinated Public Health Nutrition program. She is originally from Macomb, MI and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science from Wayne State University in Detroit. Megan served as an AmeriCorp for the Cooking Matters Program in Detroit for one year prior to starting grad school. This post details the work she has been doing this year for the MCH Nutrition training grant.
This school year I have had the opportunity to intern at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in the Healthy Community Unit. The main project that I have worked on is creating resources for a pilot program around healthy retail. This work tied in nicely with my research assistant position from last year, which was with the STaple foods ORdinance Evaluation (STORE) study. This city wide ordinance is unique to Minneapolis and requires licensed grocery stores (including corner stores, gas stations, dollar stores, and pharmacies) to sell a certain amount of basic food items including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, eggs, and low-fat dairy. The goal of this policy is to improve food access, particularly in underserved neighborhoods and small food stores that do not currently stock these types of items. Food access is a big health equity issue in Minnesota, specifically in the Twin Cities.
Retail stores play an important role in stocking healthy items that are both convenient and nutritious. At MDH I created a toolkit to help the grantees and store owners, that are involved with the pilot project, ease into creating healthy checkout lane(s) in their stores. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a leader in work around healthy checkout. As part of my work at MDH I collaborated with our team to create healthy checkout standards to be used for our pilot project. We considered current and related standards such as Smart Snacks and Healthy Vending Standards in creating our own standards for healthy checkout. We were conscious to what foods would be allowed or restricted within the standards along with having affordable and accessible options available. I also created a list of items that meet these standards as a starting point for store owners that is available to them as part of the toolkit.
Through my work as a grad student, and previously through AmeriCorp, I have found that people tend to want to eat healthier, but often don’t have the access to healthy and affordable foods or the knowledge to make healthy choices on their own. Nudging is a behavioral economics theory that helps make healthy choices an easy choice for consumers. This and other marketing strategies such as tips on placement and pricing are all part of the healthy checkout pilot program at MDH. Historically, checkout lanes tend to be filled with high calorie, low nutrient foods such as candy bars, chips, and soda pops. One reason for this is that manufacturers actually purchase shelving space in these areas where consumers often make impulse buys while waiting in line. The movement of healthy checkout lanes chooses the health of the customer and the community by assisting store owners in finding ways to sell products that consumers desire, are healthy, and are profitable for the store.