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Manel Kappagoda's picture

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I like to think I have a lot of influence over my three-year-old daughter’s choices, but it’s hard to compete with the likes of Joe Camel and friendly little M & M smiley faces. Like many parents, I worry that advertising—which has been shown to have a greater influence over youth than peer pressure—will tempt my daughter to indulge in unhealthy activities. I see how the tobacco industry markets aggressively to kids and I see how many stores in our communities do not carry fresh produce or even milk but do carry cigarettes, alcohol and soda. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she can make healthy choices easily. As Mark Bittman said so well in a recent New York Times Op Ed, “The right to be healthy trumps the right of corporations to promote choices that lead to premature death and preventable illnesses."

Luckily, my home state of California is making a strong statement: with today’s launch of the Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community campaign, California says, we choose good health over chronic disease. Starting today, California-based tobacco prevention, nutrition, and alcohol prevention agencies will work together to improve the health of Californians by improving what appears in stores across our state.

Cornerstore | MomsRising.orgPhoto: Courtesy Meliah Shultzman/ChangeLab Solutions

To figure out what to fix, the campaign surveyed over 7,300 retail stores, from small corner stores to big box stores. This was the first survey to analyze the sale of tobacco, alcohol, and food in California and the results are staggering. Throughout the state:

  • Twenty-seven percent of the 7,300 stores surveyed that carry tobacco products are located within  two blocks of a school;
  • Seventy-one percent of stores carry alcohol, while only 37 percent carry low fat or fat free milk;
  • Forty-two percent of stores sell fresh fruits or vegetables, compared to 57 percent of stores that offer sugary drinks near checkout areas;
  • Of stores that sell alcohol, 37 percent feature ads near candy or toys, and;
  • Seventy-one of the surveyed stores have unhealthy exterior advertising, compared to 12 percent that feature healthy exterior advertising.

The survey results show we have much to be concerned about. However, even as the groups driving the campaign work toward broader change, I know I can drive change with my wallet. I can choose where I shop, and I can ask my neighborhood stores to choose better options.

In fact, whether you’re a parent in California or elsewhere in the country, you can exercise your rights, too. You can choose the stores that offer fresh produce and limit advertising of junk food and tobacco products to kids and you can ask your local leaders to put policies in place that make your local stores healthier.

Convenience Store Cigarettes | MomsRising.orgPhoto: California Department of Health

And you won’t be alone. All across the country, advocates are working with retailers to improve the quality, quantity, and affordability of produce and other healthy items in stores and reduce unhealthy influences in communities that are saturated with alcohol, tobacco, and junk food. At ChangeLab Solutions, we have many products that can help with these efforts. Our electronic cigarette resources provide an overview of the different policy options available to communities that want to address sales of these devices. Because flavored tobacco products appeal so heavily to youth, our material on restricting the sales  of these products can help to get them off shelves.

In addition to getting tobacco off shelves, we want to get fresh fruits and vegetables on shelves. ChangeLab Solutions developed Incentives for Change to provide an overview of how local communities can reward small food retailers who wish to make healthy changes to their business models and suggests funding sources and partnerships to implement incentive programs locally.

Don’t wait for a survey to confirm your concerns about what’s offered in stores in your community. If you have similar concerns—perhaps you’ve noticed the prolific advertising of tobacco products, or your kids keep coming home with chips and soda after stopping at the corner store--I encourage you to let what’s happening today in California inspire you. Tell your local policymakers you want the stores in your community to support your family’s right to be healthy.


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