Welcome to the new Atlantic City, where health is imperative and change is occurring! After a very productive and positive summer, it is safe to say that a movement is underway. Six of Atlantic City’s corner stores have begun implementing the Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative. The owners of La Abaduncia, Cedar Basic Foods, A&B Grocery, K&K Gift and Grocery, and Cedar Market VIII—just to name a few—have taken steps toward improving the quality of life for local residents by providing healthier food options.
As where there have been changes to the physical environment, health based educational and encouragement programs have also been expanded to ensure that true impact occurs. Last year, the YMCA brought its Healthy U Program to two of Atlantic City’s schools: Texas Avenue and Richmond Avenue. This year, the program will be brought to New York Avenue School! This means that more children will have the opportunity to be engaged in physical activity. During out of school time, children will have access to healthier foods at participating corner stores.
So, what are the future plans? Recently, the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA, the AtlantiCare Foundation, and Rutgers SnapED department have been discussing expanding education programs by offering health screenings near partnered corner stores and schools. As where this has only been a preliminary discussion, creating a culture of health in Atlantic City looks promising.
Atlantic City is turning over a new leaf! The community has voiced its opinion and the verdict is in—healthy eating and active living are of utmost importance. Six corners stores have signed up to participate in the New Jersey Healthy Corner Store Initiative! A&B Food Market, Boom Supermarkets, Cedar Basic Foods (1700 Baltic Ave.), Cedar Dollar Plus, Cedar Food Market VIII , K&K Gift and Grocery, and La Abundancia have all taken the first step to provide healthier food and beverage options. Staff at the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA will be providing free training to corner store owners on how to properly purchase and display fresh fruits and vegetables, market healthier foods, and conduct product placement seminars.
The Atlantic City School District was not to be outdone by local corner stores. New York Avenue School has signed up to participate in the YMCA’s Healthy U Program. Healthy U is a program aimed at preventing childhood obesity through improved nutrition, increased physical activity, and parental involvement. Results show improvement in key health measurements including increased physical activity and healthier eating.
Moving forward, the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA hopes to partner with Atlantic City’s Family Success Centers to expand the effort through community ambassadors. As where work is moving forward, weaving the project throughout the fabric of the community will be key to achieve sustainability.
Recently, the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA had the opportunity to sit down with Atlantic City School District’s Healthy U champion, Julie Land, to discuss her efforts in expanding Healthy U to other schools. Over her 30 year tenure as a Physical Education Teacher, Ms. Land has consistently tried to incorporate new methods and modules into her lesson plans that educate and encourage healthy and active living.
CCAYMCA: Has Healthy U made a difference?
Julie Land: “Absolutely; in physical education and in health, the program has made a difference in the way students approach decision making. Students tend to think twice about food choices and tend to be more active when given the opportunity to do so.”
CCAYMCA: Has the program been easy to integrate?
Julie Land: “It was fairly easy to integrate the program due to being a part of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. A wellness team was in place and amazingly supportive. Naysayers even started to gravitate toward wanting to know more over time. It was important to keep those that share similar interests involved and their morale high—pictures are posted all over the halls with students participating in activities.”
CCAYMCA: Has it been easy to get new schools involved?
Julie Land: “Other PE Teachers are interested, however 5 physical education teachers were let go this year. The turnover has caused tremendous difficulty in soliciting new partnerships with other schools. New York Avenue Health and PE Teachers were not reinstated. Uptown Complex has shown interest.”
CCAYMCA: How has your perspective changed through participating?
Julie Land: “Communication with parents is the most difficult. Because of this, students are not active at home. However, next year I plan on integrating parents into the wellness committee. Also, Chefs with a Mission, will be incorporated into the plan to engage parents to cook healthier meals at home.”
Success can be determined by the impact a project has or can have on a group of people over time. Although the success of chronic disease prevention programs can not be determined immediately upon their administration, projected outcomes can be identified if the program is evidence based. In Atlantic City, the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA and the NJPHK-AC (New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids Atlantic City) is utilizing the YMCA’s Healthy U Program to combat childhood obesity. The YMCA’s Healthy U Program aims to prevent childhood obesity through improved nutrition, increased physical activity, and parental involvement.
Currently, the Healthy U Program is being championed at Texas Avenue and Richmond Avenue Schools. Recently, the program has been expanded to New York Avenue School! The New York Avenue School Wellness Committee will be trained on their next Professional Development Day. The Wellness Committee consists of the school nurse, principal, PE teachers, and various staff members.
The Healthy Corner Store initiative is gaining ground in Atlantic City as the Healthy U program takes the school district by storm. The Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA and the NJPHK-AC has been vigorously scanning and soliciting local corner stores to make the necessary conversions to provide healthier food options for the residents of the communities they serve. By offering a variety of food options devoid of fats, sodium, and excess sugars, the fight against chronic disease would be impacted tremendously. This summer, staff will be tirelessly reaching out to targeted stores around schools and communities to make the biggest impact possible in the daily lives of those that use these grocers as the primary source in obtaining meals.
Healthy Nutrition and Physical Activity—what do these two topics have in common with Atlantic City? They are the primary focus of community and school based initiatives being executed by the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA (CCA YMCA) to advance the health and wellbeing of children in Atlantic City through funding from ShapingNJ. The CCA YMCA has begun expanding the YMCA’s Healthy Schools Program to two more schools, as well as laid the groundwork to expand the Healthy Corner Store Program.
The reasoning for this effort is simple. Atlantic County is 19th in overall ranking amongst all 21 counties in New Jersey for health. Nearly 35% of the residents in Atlantic City live below the poverty line. Americans living in poverty are more likely to develop a chronic disease, such as obesity. Atlantic City is also considered a food desert. A food desert is an area vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. Unfortunately, many people who live in an area identified as a food desert will obtain their food through local corner stores or bodegas. Food options are usually limited in these stores and available products are normally dense in sugar and fats, while lacking nutritional value. For these reasons, CCCA YMCA and its partners are excited for this opportunity to continue work that was started last year in Atlantic City.
Currently, almost 1,000 students in total from the Atlantic City School District participate in the YMCA’s Healthy U program. CCA YMCA is planning to expand the Healthy U Program to two more Atlantic City schools, doubling the number children that receive education pertaining to being active , health and wellness. As warm weather approaches, Healthy Corner Store ambassadors from the CCA YMCA, with the guidance of the Food Trust, will be taking to the streets of Atlantic City to engage and encourage corner store owners to offer healthier food options in areas where student foot traffic is high.CCA YMCA will also engage corner stores that are identified as WIC participants to ensure that healthful products are available.