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Center for a Livable Future


November 27, 2012

CLF Implements Eat Right Live Well Campaign at Food Depot

Grocery Shopping on a Shoestring: Slides | Brief
Supermarket Environment Interventions: Slides

As part of a long-term public health research project, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and the Bloomberg School have launched a study to explore how changes to a supermarket environment might encourage low-income shoppers to purchase more healthy groceries. Changes included reduced prices and taste tests for healthier items, and staff training in nutrition and customer service. In addition, changes were made to the store's physical layout, such as shelf labeling to point out healthy options, and prominent eye-level placement of those items on end-caps and at the register.

The comprehensive study involves the implementation of interventions in Food Depot, a supermarket located in Southwest Baltimore. Food Depot is located in a low-income neighborhood, where many customers use federally funded nutrition programs like SNAP (food stamps) and WIC (Women, Infant, Children) to supplement their grocery budgets.

At the heart of the intervention is the Eat Right Live Well (ERLW) campaign, created through a collaborative effort by the researchers, shoppers in Southwest Baltimore, and a Maryland Institute College of Art faculty member. The campaign uses shelf labels and storewide promotions to draw attention to foods that are low in fat, low in sugar, and low in salt, and the promotions include sales for healthier choices.

Benjy Green, owner of Food Depot, said that he was interested in collaborating with the Center on the project out of concern for his community. "From what I gather", he said, "Southwest Baltimore has a lot of health challenges. How can anybody stand by and watch? I want to play whatever role we can play."

Green admits that, unfortunately, there's a great deal of profit in unhealthy food. His involvement in the research project is "not about profit at all", he said. "My family is from Baltimore. We're one of the few remaining local groceries. We worry about our neighbors."

As part of the ERLW campaign, the Center's researchers also train and collaborate with Food Depot staff. The purpose of this collaboration is to solicit and share ideas about how best to promote healthier foods to customers. "Many of the employees already have practices that they use to encourage healthy food choices," said Drew Zachary, the community outreach coordinator of ERLW. Anne Palmer, a CLF staff member and co-investigator on the study, added, "The idea is to share those and encourage other employees to participate in the program."

Other components of the study include "Shopping Matters" tours, in which shoppers participate in guided tours of a supermarket to identify and locate healthy food choices; taste tests during peak SNAP shopping days to introduce shoppers to healthier and affordable food choices; and community outreach workshops that let potential shoppers know about the Eat Right Live Well campaign at Food Depot and engage customers with interactive activities related to health eating and health grocery shopping.

In addition to the in-store activities, the research team has reached out to community organizations, groups and local schools, daycare centers, and churches, to promote the program and healthy eating in the community. Eat Right Live Well has participated in parents nights at local schools, the Hollins Market Harvest festival, and local church outreach activities.

"There are structural factors within and outside the supermarket environment that influence choices about what to buy and eat, so we hope that through our community outreach and changes made in the store, our program will increase healthy purchasing," said Pamela Surkan, the principal investigator of the study.

Before beginning the intervention components mentioned above, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups with Food Depot shoppers to understand how they made decisions about what to buy on tight budgets, and how the supermarket environment influenced their ability to buy healthy groceries. They also asked for shoppers ideas about how to encourage healthy purchasing. They found shoppers had sufficient knowledge about what constitutes a healthy diet versus an unhealthy diet, and that they would prefer to purchase healthy food. The results of the study, to be published in an upcoming issue of Qualitative Health Research, focus on identifying how shoppers plan their purchases, how the supermarket environment influences shoppers decisions, and how factors such as store layout and quality of produce lead shoppers to buy more unhealthy foods and fewer healthy foods than they would prefer. Results showed that shoppers had difficulty stretching a thin budget to feed a family, and often did not have healthy options that were as filling as foods high in sodium, fat, sugar and carbohydrates.

The findings of the intervention and the Eat Right Live Well campaign are expected to be ready in the spring of 2013. The researchers hope that the data will show whether and how healthy grocery purchases increased during the span of the campaign.