Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn today announced a concerted effort to increase access to healthy foods in low-income communities by creating a new Food Policy Task Force and the new position of Food Policy Coordinator. The Office of the Mayor and the City Council have collaborated to expand the availability of nutritious, affordable food in underserved communities, enhance the nutritional standards followed by City agencies in feeding clients and staff, and improve access to food support programs. A recent City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) study of two Brooklyn communities with high rates of poverty and obesity, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, found that their supply of reduced fat-milk, fruits and vegetables was low. The Task Force and the Coordinator will work with grocers and other small business owners to provide healthy food options including reduced-fat milk so that poor New Yorkers can make healthier food choices. The Mayor also announced the expansion of the DOHMH Healthy Bodegas Initiative which since January of this year has worked with corner stores to further these same goals.
"The life expectancy in New York City is higher than in the rest of the Country," said Mayor Bloomberg. "Yet there are too many New Yorkers without the ability to select healthy foods, because those foods are not on their store shelves. This initiative will bring information and resources into the neighborhoods and increase nutritious, affordable food options for them and their children."
"More than one million New Yorkers turn to charitable organizations, such as food pantries and soup kitchens, to obtain food each year," said Speaker Quinn. "Increasing access to healthy food and reducing hunger in our City require a specific focus, I am thankful to the Bloomberg administration for working in a close partnership with the Council to develop the position of Food Policy Coordinator. By making this our City's responsibility, we can do more to make sure children go to bed every night fed with nutritious food, our seniors get more access to food stamps, and fewer New Yorkers are at risk of going hungry."
"The lack of affordable and healthy food options, such as fruits and vegetables, in low-income communities is a problem that can have significant health consequences," said Deputy Mayor Gibbs. "Through this new coordination we will bring together the many city agencies that will play a role in expanding the range of easily accessible, affordable and nutritious food options."
"Obesity, and with it diabetes, are epidemic in New York and nationally," said Commissioner Frieden. "Eating healthier has gotten harder in New York City and nationally. Making societal changes such as increasing access to and decreasing the cost of healthy foods can be an important part of the solution. Involving many agencies and community leaders is the best way to try to accomplish this goal."
The June 2006 DOHMH study found that 80% of food stores in low-income communities are bodegas, but only a third of those stores sell reduced-fat milk, and only a tenth of them sell leafy green vegetables. The Food Policy Task Force will assist agencies in the development and coordination of community and city-wide initiatives to improve access to these kinds of foods. The Task Force will also support the coordination of City agency food purchasing to ensure that the meals provided by City agencies to their clients are healthy and nutritious. City agencies that feed their clients and that will benefit from these efforts include the Administration for Children's Services (ACS), the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the Department for the Aging (DFTA), the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and the Human Resources Administration (HRA). Members of the Task Force will include representatives of the Office of the City Council Speaker, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Human Resources Administration and others. The Food Policy Coordinator will staff the Food Policy Task Force and will be located in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.
The Mayor also announced the expansion of the Healthy Bodegas Initiative from 200 bodegas to more than 1,000 in the South Bronx, East and Central Harlem, and Central Brooklyn over the next two years. Since the initiative was started in January 2006, DOHMH has partnered with 200 bodegas and corner stores in communities that have the highest rates of poverty and diet-related health diseases. The initiative has targeted access to 1% milk, which has all the nutritional value but many fewer calories and fat than whole or 2% milk. In all participating bodegas, sales of 1% milk increased. Expansion of the initiative will also include the launching of the "Green Light" section in bodegas to highlight healthier food items available for purchase, such as 1% milk, diet beverages, fruits and vegetables.
The City's nutritious food agenda also includes increasing enrollment in food support programs. Last month, Mayor Bloomberg launched ACCESS NYC, an online tool that brings 21 different city, state, and federal human service benefit programs – including food stamps – into a single website. By entering basic household information into the site (available at www.nyc.gov/ACCESSNYC), residents can receive a list of the programs for which they are potentially eligible, print partially-complete application forms and find office locations. Over 1.08 million New York City residents received Food Stamps in July 2006 – a 36 percent increase since January 2002. New York State recently received a $4 million award from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for being among the most successful states in the country at improving access to the Food Stamp Program. Despite these gains, there remain New Yorkers eligible for food stamps who are not yet enrolled. Expanding access to critical work support programs like food stamps and the creation of the Food Coordinator and the Food Policy Task Force are consistent with recommendations issued by the Mayor's Commission for Economic Opportunity. The Commission in its report cited the need to improve and expand benefits that support work and to encourage enrollment in income-enhancing work support programs through outreach and marketing. The creation of the Food Coordinator and the Food Policy Task Force will ensure that the city has a coordinated agenda for ensuring that poor New Yorkers have access to healthy foods.
The announcement took place at Melrose Houses, one of two New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments visited twice a month by City Harvest's Mobile Market trailer. City Harvest's Mobile Market provides free and fresh produce to some 3,200 residents of Melrose Houses. The Mayor and Council Speaker were joined at the announcement by Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs, DOHMH Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, and Family Services Coordinator Jennifer Jones Austin.