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A Better Way to Fight Obesity: New, Smarter Supermarkets

If high rates of obesity are correlated with poverty and limited access to fresh, healthy food, it’s logical that building more supermarkets should improve public health outcomes. This is the conclusion the Obama administration has drawn, and barring further cuts, the current federal budget designates more than $400 million toward an item called the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which will help fund new markets in low-income neighborhoods. It’s a progressive move based on sound research and reasoning—but according to public health expert Rupal Sanghvi, the initiative has the potential to be a lost opportunity at a grand scale.”Standard supermarkets are designed to promote consumption of foods that are high in sugar and preservatives,” explains Sanghvi, “because those are the high-margin items that maximize profit.” According to current guidelines, in an average 10,000-square-foot supermarket, only 500 square feet must be utilized for fresh produce. If the U.S. spends millions to build supermarkets according to the conventional mold, she argues, we may see some improvement in public health simply as a result of increased access to food, but we stand to achieve far better outcomes if we first reconsider supermarket design itself.

Sanghvi is the founder of HealthxDesign (“Healthy By Design”), an initiative she launched in 2010 after a decade of work with the International Planned Parenthood Federation. During her years in the field, Sanghvi observed numerous instances in which people developing public health solutions overlooked contextual factors that were contributing to the problem. In clinics, for example, she saw how redesigning ventilation systems, retrofitting inefficient lighting, or choosing different building materials could improve treatment conditions and accessibility, but these things were rarely addressed. Likewise, in supermarkets, features like store layout and air temperature can influence purchasing decisions, but food access initiatives often stop short of such nuances of structural design.Read the full article.

Originally published by The Atlantic


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