Occidental College Wins Grant to Improve Inner-City Nutrition
Occidental College’s Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) has been awarded a $946,000 grant to help improve nutrition in inner-city Los Angeles, where disproportionate numbers of residents suffer from obesity and diabetes.
The award from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is payable through 2007 and will allow UEPI’s Center for Food and Justice to launch its “Healthy Food, Healthy Schools and Healthy Communities” project in partnership with several South Los Angeles community-based organizations.
The Center for Food and Justice will lead the effort to evaluate food access factors in schools and communities, raise nutrition, environmental and food access awareness, develop and implement intervention strategies, and assess the environmental and policy impact of those strategies.
“Residents of neighborhoods that lack affordable sources of healthy food may experience higher rates of overweight and diabetes, resulting from differences in the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods versus foods that are high in calories, added fat, and sugars, and low in other nutrients,” says principal investigator Robert Gottlieb, UEPI director and Henry R. Luce Professor of Urban Environmental Studies.
“The local nutrition environments created by such factors can, however, be changed if community members are actively involved in shaping community nutrition norms and influencing policies that increase the availability of affordable healthy foods.”
Occidental will partner with Esperanza Community Housing Corp.; Blazers Youth Foundation; the Division of Biostatistics Statistical Consultation & Research Center at USC; the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles; and the Community Food Security Coalition, a national organization based in Venice, Calif.
The project will target schools in South Central and Northeast Los Angeles. Low-income African American and Latino students, parents and residents will be trained to assess community and school food needs and develop action plans to improve local nutrition.
The plan also calls for the creation of local nutrition councils to increase awareness of disparities facing the inner city. A study last year by Occidental’s Center for Food and Justice showed that, despite promises made in the wake of the 1992 riots, inner-city Los Angeles still suffers from a shortage of supermarkets – a situation that forces low-income residents to pay more for their food, reduces access to fresh food, and contributes to the national obesity epidemic.
In studies of various low-income communities, positive dietary changes have occurred where there is a variety of healthy, affordable foods available, Gottlieb said. In a 2002 study, African Americans’ fruit and vegetable intake increased by 32 percent for each additional supermarket in their census tract. In a 2001 study by the UCLA School of Public Health, low-income second- to fifth-graders participating in a pilot salad bar program in the Los Angeles Unified School District increased their daily intake of fruits and vegetables by more than 40 percent.
“Prominent among the goals of NIEHS is support of research aimed at achieving environmental justice for all populations,” a statement on the organization’s website reads. “Development of community-based strategies to address environmental health problems requires approaches that are not typically familiar to the research and medical communities. This program is designed to develop new modes of communication and to ensure that the community actively participates with researchers and health care providers in developing responses and setting priorities for intervention strategies.”
NIEHS is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services.
The NIEHS grant builds on Occidental’s commitment to fostering healthy eating in the state. Last year, the college’s Center for Food and Justice received a $691,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to expand its innovative effort to improve children’s eating habits and give small farmers access to the $16 billion school food services market.