We grew up just down the street from our friend, Sarah, who is now living in NYC and doing really great work in the community health and nutrition field. We asked her to write a little something on her latest efforts. Thanks, Sarah!
My name is Sarah Shaikh, and I manage the NYC Healthy Communities Initiative through Bon Secours NY Health System. Recently, I was awarded funding to tell the story of how America’s large farm and food manufacturing sectors trickle way down to affect the health of seemingly removed urban communities in ways that will result in a shorter life span of our youth compared to our parents. This will be the first reverse trend documented in human history.
My public service announcement (PSA) is called, “Imagine A Child.”
I am a native Clevelander tackling food justice issues affecting the “urban food desert” neighborhoods of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Here, most families live in over-crowed public housing as their incomes fall below the federal poverty line. Most residents are either Black or Hispanic – two genetically predisposed populations at high risk for diet-related illnesses. What is not well understood is that “food deserts” are not always desolate places devoid of enough grocery retail. In the case of the NW Bronx and Upper Manhattan, stores are abundant–and calories are abundant– but access to high quality nutritious food is limited. Space is at a premium in NYC, so we rely on local 24-hour corner stores rather than commuting to larger grocery stores in distant communities. As is typical, candy, processed foods, soda, cigarettes, and beer dominate prime shelf space in these stores – leaving little room for fresh produce, lean meats, and whole grains. Companies like Frito-Lay and Coca Cola rent most of the shelves ensuring that their products are always upfront and at eye-level. They also negotiate control of window space so their advertising is always prominent. This aggressive marketing scheme makes it very difficult for the consumer to make good choices. Not only is nutritious food more expensive, but it’s also hidden in dark back aisles and near the dirty floors. As a consequence, our families suffer from the nation’s highest rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diet-related illnesses. On the national scale, 23% of our youth are already diabetic or prediabetic, costing us over $120 billion annually in government health care payments. At the same time, my research demonstrates that a majority of local teens are making their own food purchases – mainly in fast food restaurants and corner stores. In short, kids are spending money like adults, but they are not prepared like us….
As a native Clevelander, I still closely follow the community food justice issues of their neighborhoods. My PSA, “Imagine a Child” accurately sums up the experience of NYC youth in corner stores, but the PSA was actually inspired by the story of 9-year-old Cleveland Heights boy removed from his home and placed in protective supervision solely because his mother allowed him to become obese. The press continually questions who is to blame, but the real question is “how do we best heal him?” To understand this, I took a stab at imagining his experience, then working backwards from that place of hurt to understand what went wrong. The PSA provides no solutions – just a starting point for educated dialogue. Great solutions already exist in many communities. Some are transferable, many adaptable/replicable. I encourage you to explore what’s already working in your communities, but feel free to reach out to gather ideas from what works in ours at www.bshsi.org/hci.ny and www.facebook.com/BSNY.HCI
Please share the PSA with friends, family, parents, school faculty – anyone. I sincerely hope that you enjoy!