Mayor Michael Bloomberg's mission to inspire and/or force city residents to make healthier food choices continued on Wednesday with the announcement of the city's “Shop Healthy” program. It's non-mandatory but the city is issuing very, very stern urgings to stores to arrange their inventory in a way that makes items like fruit and vegetables more prominent, while placing junk food below eye level. So prepare to walk to the back of a store or bend down to grab those Fritos.
According to the Daily News, the city went to the heart of the problem on Wednesday in two extremely unhealthy Bronx neighborhoods — Fordham and West Farms — where almost 70 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Nearly half of 180 stores there have agreed to participate in the program by placing nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables near store entrances, and junk food plus unhealthy drinks (including sixteen-plus ounce sodas!) to the rear. The Times reports that stores will also put water and low-calorie drinks at eye-level in coolers. But it's more than a reshuffling — the city has also urged stores to stock city-certified “healthy snacks," and promote a healthy sandwich deal at the deli counter.
Said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, “We’re saying to stores, ‘You can present healthier options to the people who shop at your stores every day.’ Still making money, still making sure that you have a successful business, but presenting healthier choices to people."
To Bloomberg's credit, a recent study found that city's 2007 ban on trans fats successfully reduced residents' intake of the fatty substance. The "Shop Healthy" program is a less-direct mechanism for promoting health, which depends on stores to adhere to program suggestions, and also on consumer behavior. You'd better believe that a drunk person wandering into a bodega at 3 a.m. in an altered mind state will find those chips. But who knows, maybe the balance of people will take a cue and grab a kiwi. Someone call Malcolm Gladwell.
The Times report comically closes by exposing the fatal flaw with the "Shop Healthy" program: After city officials left the store where they held a news conference, a person observed a worker there restocking a fridge near the cash register with twenty-ounce Cokes, removing bottles of Dasani that appeared there for only a short while.