ARE HEALTHY FOOD OPTIONS AVAILABLE AT NORTH END NEIGHBORHOOD STORES?
Recently the North End created the North End Well-Being Services (NEWS) to coordinate existing services to North End residents and to address the void in accessible health and well-being activities for North End residents. Since 2000, through the Springfield Studio, the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has addressed community issues in the North End in collaboration with the North End Campus Committee. Consistent with the North End’s renewed focus on public health, this year the Springfield Studio focused on starting an enquiry about the relationship between neighborhood environment and the residents’ health in the North End. Our efforts focused on understanding the food environment, i.e. the availability of healthy food in the neighborhood.
We used a census of food stores, a validated survey tool (NEMS-S), and qualitative data to provide a baseline picture of the food environment in the North End (i.e. healthy food map and baseline scores). The findings suggest that there is very limited availability of healthy food options in the Northend. Out of a maximum possible NEMS-S score of 50 for healthy food avavailability, quality and pricing, the maximum score found in the North End was 13. The vast majority of stores had NEMS-S scores under 10.
Drawing upon community initiatives around food justice in other areas, we used the findings of our research as a starting point for suggesting strategies that the North End could use to raise community awareness about the food environment, and to engage both citizens and store owners in improving the neighborhood food environment.