Low-Income New Yorkers Eat Fruits and Vegetables Less Frequently, Suffer Higher Obesity Rates and Health Complications
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs, Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley and Human Resources Administration Commissioner Robert Doar announced today that, as part of the city-wide effort to fight the obesity epidemic, the City is increasing efforts to improve access to healthy eating. The percentage of adults who ate no fruits or vegetables in the previous day fell from 14 percent in 2004 to 12 percent in 2010, but New Yorkers in low-income communities still report eating fruits and vegetables less frequently than those in high-income neighborhoods. To make the healthy choice the easy choice, the City’s Health Bucks coupons – good for $2 of fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets – will for the first time be accepted at all 138 farmers markets, an increase of more than 100 percent from last year’s 65. Overall, this is expected to amount to more than $350,000 in free fruits and vegetables for low-income New Yorkers this season. Additionally, Stellar Farmers Markets, a nutrition education program at farmers markets that provides food stamp-eligible New Yorkers with the knowledge, skills and resources for a healthier diet, will be at 18 markets this year. New Yorkers can find the farmers market closest to them by typing in their street address at www.nyc.gov. The Mayor made the announcement at the Union Square Greenmarket where he was also joined by Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Chair of New York State Assembly Health Committee Richard Gottfried, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Council Member Gale A. Brewer, Food Policy Coordinator Kim Kessler and Assistant Director of GrowNYC Cheryl Huber.
“Eating more produce is an easy – and delicious – way to replace junk calories with nutritious, healthy fruits and vegetables.” said Mayor Bloomberg. “A critical component to fighting the obesity crisis is making sure that all New Yorkers have access to fresh produce, and the expansion of Health Bucks helps even more low-income New Yorkers affordably purchase fruits and vegetables.”
“Today’s announcement to greatly expand the City’s Health Bucks program will help improve the health of all New Yorkers, especially for our residents in low-income communities,” said Speaker Quinn. “The City Council has long been a supporter of expanding EBT use at farmers markets, as well as the Health Bucks program, and I am thrilled that these coupons will now be accepted at all farmers markets. Through this expansion, fresh, healthy produce will be within closer reach of those who really need it. Simultaneously, we’ll be supporting local farmers by making sure that more New Yorkers can purchase their produce.”
“I applaud Mayor Bloomberg for giving people incentives to spend their food stamp dollars on fresh fruit and vegetables,” said Congresswoman Maloney. “Now that Health Bucks are accepted at all greenmarkets, it's easier to make healthier food choices.”
“By giving low-income people the resources and opportunity to purchase healthier food, Mayor Bloomberg is carrying his commitment to improving the health of all New York City residents from words and policy to their kitchens,” said Richard Gottfried, Chair, New York State Assembly Health Committee.
“Increasing access to affordable healthy and nutritious food is part of the City’s holistic effort to combat the obesity crisis,” said Deputy Mayor Gibbs. “It is not enough for people to simply eliminate sources of useless calories, like those in sugary drinks, but we also need to increase focus on good nutrition, like healthy fruits and vegetables. Farmers markets offer access to high-quality local produce and, with the expansion of Health Bucks, it is now more affordable for many New Yorkers.”
“Making it easier to purchase healthier foods will save lives at a time when obesity kills 5,800 New Yorkers a year,” said Health Commissioner Farley. “Expanding Health Bucks to every farmers market and making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible are part of the City’s all-out effort to combat obesity.”
“Health Bucks is an excellent way to help New Yorkers save money while promoting a healthier diet,” said HRA Commissioner Robert Doar. “Individuals and families receiving food stamps should take advantage of Health Bucks’ savings and shop for nutritious food choices by visiting any of the farmers’ market throughout our city. I want to thank Mayor Bloomberg and our partners at the Department of Health for their continued dedication to anti-obesity efforts. HRA will continue its efforts on promoting good nutrition habits among New Yorkers in need.”
“Increased pathways for access to Greenmarket food is good news for freshness and healthy diets downstate, and local farmers upstate,” said Council Member Brewer. “When it comes to nutrition, taste and variety, these foods improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers and it’s a great step to be able to bring these foods into more homes, especially New Yorkers with low incomes or seniors on fixed income.”
“Visiting a farmers market and cooking a meal at home are two simple steps New Yorkers can take toward a healthier lifestyle - and these programs provide resources to help people do just that,” said Food Policy Coordinator Kessler. “Linking guidance with resources will help more New Yorkers make better choices - good for them and also good for our regions farmers.”
“GrowNYC is thrilled that the City will expand its innovative Health Bucks program to reach all Greenmarkets this summer,” said Marcel Van Ooyen, Executive Director, GrowNYC. “EBT sales at farmers markets grow exponentially every year, proving that all New Yorkers want to feed their families the freshest, most nutritious food available. Health Bucks are a critical component of this work, providing a 40% increase in buying power to food stamp recipients and incentivizing them to spend their benefits at the market.”
Obesity is a growing and major public health problem. With 58 percent of New York City adults – 3,437,000 people –now overweight or obese, obesity is a leading cause of preventable premature death, second only to tobacco, and is responsible for thousands of deaths per year through diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
One in three adult New Yorkers now either has diabetes or a condition known as pre-diabetes, a state where blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetes and the person is at risk for developing diabetes in the future. Black New Yorkers are almost three times more likely, and Hispanics twice as likely, as whites to die from diabetes. Obesity statistics are even more startling among New York City youth. Despite recent progress with childhood obesity, 21.3 percent of New York City children ages 6-11 years are obese, compared to 19.6 percent nationally. Additionally, obesity-related illness costs New York City residents $4 billion annually through higher Medicaid and Medicare costs.
To support the healthy food purchasing power of food-stamp participants, the Health Department and Human Resources Administration this year has more than doubled farmers markets participating in the Health Bucks program. Health Bucks are $2 coupons good for fresh produce at farmers markets. This year, all 138 markets (up from last year’s 65) will accept Health Bucks and the 125 of those markets that accept Food stamps/ EBT will also distribute the coupons as incentives. For each $5 of food stamps that a customer spends at farmers’ markets, they will receive one Health Buck coupon worth $2 for fresh fruits and vegetables at any farmers market. (Additional coupons at 18 of these markets are also being made available through the New York State Fresh Connect Program and Wholesome Wave foundation funding.) The program, which is the largest municipal farmers market incentive program in the country, runs from July 1 through November 15.
A limited supply of coupons will also be available through community organizations located in Health Department District Public Health Office neighborhoods in the South Bronx, North and Central Brooklyn, and East and Central Harlem. These organizations service neighborhoods that have high rates of poverty and chronic illness, as well as low consumption rates for fresh fruits and vegetables. Organizations in these neighborhoods may apply to distribute Health Bucks as part of their nutrition programming.
Additionally, Stellar Farmers Markets, a nutrition education program at farmers markets that provides Food stamp eligible New Yorkers with the knowledge, skills and resources for a healthier diet, will be at 18 markets this year. The program offers practical, cost-effective tips for eating more fruits and vegetables through onsite nutrition education and cooking demonstrations using produce purchased that day at the market, and last year reached more than 37,000 people. Each market day, Stellar Farmers Markets holds 5 nutrition workshops and cooking demonstrations and provides a $2 Health Bucks coupon for all participants.
New York City is also actively working within other areas of food retail to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In 2008, the administration in partnership with the City Council introduced a new permit for food cart vendors to sell fresh fruits and vegetables in underserved neighborhoods, resulting in nearly 500 Green Carts operating in all five boroughs.
The City’s Human Resources Administration also operates several Food stamps and nutrition education programs including the Food Stamp Nutrition Outreach Program and SNAP-Ed. The Food Stamp Nutrition Outreach Program educates New Yorkers who are eligible for the Food Stamp program by visiting communities throughout the five boroughs. The Food Stamp Nutrition Outreach Program provides training on the Food Stamp program and application process, pre-screens applicants who may qualify and helps them with the application process, and provides education on good nutrition. SNAP-Ed is a federally funded program that HRA administers in New York City. HRA runs two SNAP-Ed programs in partnership with local organizations: Eat Smart NYC, with the Cornell University Cooperative Extension (CUCE-NYC); and Cook Shop, with the Food Bank for NYC. SNAP-Ed programs encourage New Yorkers who receive food stamps to make healthy food choices.
For a complete list of farmers’ markets that participate in the Health Bucks and the Stellar Farmers Markets program, search Health Bucks or Stellar Farmers’ Markets on www.nyc.gov or for more information visit Eating Healthy NYC on Facebook. To locate the Farmer’s Market closest to you, go to www.nyc.gov.
About the Obesity Task Force
In December 2011, Mayor Bloomberg charged Deputy Mayor Gibbs and Deputy Mayor of Operations Holloway with significantly strengthening the City’s anti-obesity efforts by convening a multi-agency task force that would recommend innovative, proactive solutions to address the obesity crisis in New York City. The Obesity Task Force was convened in January 2012 and conducted its work over the following several months.
Chaired by Deputy Mayors Gibbs and Holloway, Commissioners from eleven City agencies and representatives from the Mayor’s Office participated including: Alan Aviles, President, Health and Hospitals Corporation; Adrian Benepe, Commissioner, Department of Parks and Recreation; David Bragdon, Director, Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability; Amanda Burden, Commissioner, Department of City Planning; David Burney, FAIA, Commissioner, Department of Design and Construction; Robert Doar, Commissioner, Human Resources Administration; Dr. Thomas Farley, Commissioner, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Kim Kessler, Food Policy Coordinator; Robert LiMandri, Commissioner, Department of Buildings; John Rhea, Chairman, NYC Housing Authority; Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner, Department of Transportation; Carter Strickland, Commissioner, Department of Environmental Protection; and Dennis Walcott, Chancellor, Department of Education.
Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more and overweight is a BMI of 25 or more. BMI is a metric that measures excess weight in relation to height. More information about how to calculate BMI for children is available on the CDC website (www.cdc.gov). Many serious health conditions are related to being overweight or obese, such as depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory problems and heart disease.