Does Healthy Food Cost Too Much?

SPHIS Students Talk Shopping Strategies in Low-income Neighborhoods Does Healthy Food Cost Too Much?

L to R: Lindsey Bramlett, Diana Pantalos and Delana Gilkey

by Diana Pantalos, PhD, RDN 

Bombarded by messages about which foods are healthiest, but limited by a tight food budget, low-income people can find a trip to the grocery store quite discouraging. To help Louisville residents at risk for health disparities to sort out this confusion, SPHIS students have been teaching basic shopping skills for a healthy diet in targeted neighborhoods as part of the Cooking Matters at the Store program. By meeting directly with people at their grocery stores, health centers, and other familiar locations, and engaging in conversations about food attitudes and preferences, the students also have learned that respect for a person's food culture is essential when encouraging a change to healthy choices.

Cooking Matters at the Store is a program of the national non-profit, Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry, which aims to eliminate childhood hunger in the United States.  Diana Pantalos, PhD, RDN, SPHIS adjunct assistant professor and nutritionist in the Department of Pediatrics, secured a grant from the organization to provide opportunities for students to contribute to the health of the Louisville community. Students accomplish this by talking with people about food and learning about how they make decisions at the point of purchase. The target audience was parents of young children and pregnant women, but adults of all ages who rely on food assistance also participated, including families new to Louisville who are from other parts of the world. The curriculum centered on choosing a healthy balance of variety and portion size, use of unit pricing, and reading food labels to identify choices that protect against chronic disease. The Cooking Matters grant funds allowed participants to choose $10 worth of healthy foods to take home at the conclusion of the learning session, and a booklet with additional buying tips and recipes.

Delana Gilkey, who will graduate with a Bachelors in Public Health Science in May, was amazed by the insights she gained from the program.

"It was great to be able to connect with the participants by sharing ideas and recipes to get them interested in becoming more conscious and aware while grocery shopping. The Cooking Matters Program allowed me the opportunity to talk with participants, which opened my eyes to reasons why people tend to grab for the unhealthy filler foods instead of the nutritiously dense foods," Gilkey said.

Rebecca Lepovsky, MPH student in Health Promotion and Behavioral Science, was impressed by the resiliency of the people she met through the program.

"Every participant has been eager to soak up advice and knowledge that will make their lives and their children’s lives better in the future.  Although food may be a common thread, every person had a different experience, which shaped her or his view and attitude towards food. As a volunteer, it was important for me to be open to learning and hearing every person’s story, and to try to communicate within that story, in a way that will in hopefully improve their health and well-being," Lepovsky said.

In the past year, eight SPHIS students have volunteered with Cooking Matters, along with several UofL medical students.  Many participants were recruited with the help of Lindsey Bramlett, MPH, 2011 SPHIS graduate and Health Education Specialist for the Louisville Family Health Centers, where the majority of patients are poor, uninsured, or face other barriers to health care such as language or lack of transportation.

"Working with Cooking Matters, we are able to help our patients learn valuable skills that can help them improve their health and quality of life," Bramlett said.

Other recruitment sites were community centers, WIC clinics, UofL Pediatric Offices, and Jefferson County Public Schools teen pregnancy programs. Over 200 participants learned that it is possible to choose healthy foods on a limited income, while also enriching student learning during the program.

"I will be able to take this first-hand experience and apply it to my future career by learning how to accommodate different people and how to find different solutions that fit within their lifestyle,” Gilkey said.

 

 March 21, 2017

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