The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is trying to further influence what New Yorkers are eating.  The department is currently running its Healthy Bodega Initiative, a program aimed at changing what local bodega owners stock on their shelves.

“In New York City, corner stores, or bodegas, are everywhere, and many residents rely on them as an everyday source for their food,” the Heath Department says on its Web site.  “However, the selection of healthy choices at bodegas, like fruits and vegetables and low-fat milk, may be limited, as studies in Brooklyn and Harlem demonstrate.”

The Health Department goes on to suggest how bodega owners can increase their healthy food options.  These recommendations include stocking low-fat milk, whole grain bread and low-sodium canned soups, promoting healthier sandwich options and displaying bottled water at eye level.

In exchange for their participation, bodega owners will get help from the Health Department in marketing the healthier items to customers through in-store displays, promotional materials and window advertisements. The program will also help owners improve storage and shelving within the bodega and secure permits allowing vendors to sell produce on their sidewalks, which increases their store space.

In addition to working directly with bodega owners, the program is seeking community involvement.  Interested parents, teacher and community members can “adopt a bodega,” in an attempt to get local owners on board. The Healthy Bodega Initiative is currently helping stores in East Harlem, the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn.  More than 1,000 bodegas have signed up for the program.

Of course, healthy food can cost more than junk food, but this new Bodega Diet is intended to strengthen your heart and slim your waist, not fatten your wallet.

New York City’s interest in its residents’ health is not new. In 2008, state officials made it mandatory for restaurant chains with 15 or more units to post calorie counts on their menus and menu boards. (The legislation dictates that if the chain shows a price, it must also show a calorie count.)  Several other cities, including Seattle, Philadelphia (and the entire state of California), followed suit and federal legislation requiring that chains of 20 or more post calorie counts was passed as part of the health care bill.

There are no current plans to make the Bodega Diet a federal requirement.

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