'Rolling Store' provides model for overcoming barriers to healthy foods and better health outcomes


The Rolling Store, a unique approach to overcoming economic and transportation barriers in order to provide poor women in the Lower Mississippi Delta access to healthy foods, not only prevented continuing weight gain - the study's objective - but resulted in weight loss and improved self esteem.

Dr. Betty Kennedy, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, described the Rolling Store project, and its potential as a model for poor communities, on June 14 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB)/8th International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Conference (IUBMB) in Boston.

The rural Mississippi River Delta region has one of the nation's highest rates of households with incomes below the federal poverty line. Residents also rank high nationally in obesity and in increased mortality from diseases known to be associated with poor nutrition, including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Barriers to better nutrition in the Lower Mississippi Delta may include money; on a cost per calorie basis, fruits and vegetables rank among the most expensive foods, rivaling shrimp, lobster, and caviar.

They may include awareness, and they almost certainly include a limited transportation infrastructure in this rural area where the system of roadways is poor and only one bridge crosses the 215-mile stretch where the Mississippi River bisects the Delta. Unlike higher income families with better transportation, a substantial proportion of the poor in this area relies heavily on convenience stores for food purchases.

Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Agricultural Research Service, USDA, in Little Rock, Arkansas, created a six month pilot project to examine the impact of the availability of better food choices. All of the 40 rural, low-income, African-American women participating in the study were given information on healthy eating and exercise weekly, plus incentives, by a peer health educator recruited from the community and trained at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Half the women were allowed to shop, cost free, at the rolling store. This store was actually a 16-foot pick-up truck enclosed with a camper shell parked outside a local Baton Rouge community center once a week for four hours, stocked with healthy food choices such as fruits and vegetables.

The difference was significant. The women who received information only continued to gain weight (an average of 2.4 pounds over the six month period), while the women who received information and had access to healthy foods once a week lost an average of 4.2 pounds during the same period. These women also demonstrated improved self esteem.

The peer health educator and store operator reported that many residents who noticed the van parked outside the community center expressed the desire to also be allowed to shop for vegetables. Dr. Kennedy says this enthusiasm, together with the study findings, show that the Rolling Store approach to the prevention of weight gain is a realistic, inexpensive means to overcome both economic and geographic barriers to healthy diets in poor, rural people and increase the likelihood of healthier lives. She believes the Rolling Store offers a model through which members of a church or some other community organization could pool resources and deliver participants up to 100 servings of fruits and vegetables for an average cost of $10.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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