EDITORIAL: Healthier Tupelo

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s official and methodical effort to improve the community’s health notched up a level this week with the “Health on a Shelf” program that encourages convenience stores to prominently display healthy-choice foods.
Papa V’s, a popular downtown convenience store, delicatessen and service station, became the first sign-up and is the pilot project for the campaign. Its owner, Johnny Robbins, also will have a “Health on a Shelf” display beginning today at his second store on Cliff Gookin Boulevard.
In 2010, when the Healthy Tupelo Task Force sought a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi, it was awarded $25,000, but it could have received $50,000 for the program had the convenience store component been in place.
Task Force chair Hank Boerner, executive director of the Wellness Center at North Mississippi Medical Center, said having the healthier food choices prominently displayed in convenience stores could become a game changer for many people who will buy those choices when they’re easily available.
Robbins said in an article in Thursday’s Daily Journal that a trial run selling fresh fruit cups at Papa V’s was very encouraging.
“They sold out quickly,” Robbins said.
Tupelo’s initiative, spurred by Mayor Jack Reed Jr. soon after taking office two years ago, is similar to hundreds of other community initiatives nationwide. All are in response to what the American YMCA describes as a culture in which “physical activity and healthy eating have been engineered out of our lives.”
The causes cited by the YMCA national office are urban sprawl, excessive screen time with TV and computers, ubiquitous use of cars, absence of sidewalks, decreased physical education and outdoor activities in schools, larger portion sizes of food, increased access to food with limited nutrition, lack of incentives and funding for farmers markets and community gardens, and failure to encourage purchasing healthier foods.
The Health on a Shelf initiative directly addresses the encouraging of healthy choices.
Partnering with convenience stories, popular everywhere, is part of the strategy for success described by the federal Department of Health and Human Services: Identify and create effective partnerships “because individuals, organizations, and private industry all play an integral role in a healthy community and need to be included as potential partners. Inspiring others to commit to a community movement takes talent, a passion for connection, and good management skills. Sustaining participation in a partnership is a challenge that can be met by keeping partners engaged and including their interests in the priorities.”
In the case of business, healthy products that help make a profit are priorities.