Increasing the availability of fresh produce is the centerpiece of Mass General's strategy for encouraging healthy eating in one Massachusetts community.
MGH Chelsea deals with healthy eating
The MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center is part of an effort to reduce obesity rates in the surrounding community by increasing the availability of fresh produce.

Healthy eating is a major concern in Chelsea, Mass. Nearly half the elementary and middle school students in the mostly Latino community are overweight or obese, a rate that’s nearly double the state and national average. Obesity is linked to many serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Improving community health is central to Mass General’s mission. The hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement, along with Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, a primary care physician, and the WIC team at the MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center, are tackling Chelsea’s obesity rate. Their project’s primary strategy involves increasing neighborhood availability of fruits and vegetables to encourage more healthy eating.

Making Healthy Eating Easier

Melissa Dimond, manager of Community Initiatives at the health center, believes that one key to reducing the city’s obesity rate is changing the eating habits of its residents by making it easier to shop for fresh produce close to home. Many in Chelsea do not own cars or live within walking distance of a supermarket. Residents often shop in neighborhood corner stores.

While similar healthy eating projects have been conducted . . . this experiment is the first to work with both produce suppliers and store owners.

Mass General’s Corner Store Connection Initiative ensures that fresh produce that local residents enjoy, such as mangos, plantains and papayas, are easily accessible, prominently displayed and priced affordably in the neighborhood stores. While similar healthy eating projects have been conducted across the country, this experiment is the first to work with both produce suppliers and store owners.

“In order for healthy foods to be available to the consumer, they need to be viable and desirable products for the store owners,” Ms. Dimond says.

The team expects their data to show an increase in the WIC produce vouchers used at the corner stores in the program. If results are successful, Chelsea will serve as a model for other communities.