The report analyzes changes in five domains -- food retail, food insecurity and food benefits, institutional food, food and nutrition education, and diet-related health conditions -- in East Harlem from before the election of Michael Bloomberg through the first two years of the de Blasio Administration. Its goal is to assess the ways in which food environments in East Harlem have improved, stayed the same, or worsened in this 15-year period in order to inform setting food policy goals for the next 5, 10 or 15 years.
Although East Harlem is blessed with a multitude of organizations and individuals dedicated to improving local food environments and reducing food insecurity and diet-related diseases, these two problems are still more common in our community than in other New York City neighborhoods. These organizations and businesses constitute a sturdy foundation for improving our local food environment and demonstrate that since 2000 increasing access to and providing education around healthy affordable food has become a priority for many in our community.
There are now more places to purchase food in East Harlem, but more does not necessarily mean better. Food establishments selling mostly unhealthy food increased more rapidly than healthy food outlets. East Harlem is neither a food desert, where healthy food is unavailable, nor a food swamp, where only unhealthy food can be purchased. Rather, it is a complex landscape where price, quality and access vary both within East Harlem and compared to other neighborhoods. Our report also found that focusing on food related policies tells only part of the story of East Harlem's food environments - income inequality, rising rates of low wage workers mean that many East Harlem families don't earn enough to afford healthy food and housing policies contribute to the pressures that force affordable supermarkets to close, replaced by higher end food retailers that cater to the wealthier people moving into East Harlem.
Our study confirmed our belief that local studies of community food environments can yield evidence that can highlight local successes and failures. In the last two decades, New York City has worked hard to make more data available to community residents and leaders so they can participate more fully in policy deliberations. But we found many indicators of food environments unavailable at the scale we needed, and the variety of data sources we used to assess changes in the number of retail food establishments in East Harlem over time provided different answers to what appeared to be the same questions. By providing more reliable, accessible, and user friendly data on local food environments, public agencies and universities can better engage communities in taking action to improve these environments.This report also reaffirmed the value of CUNY faculty, staff and students to working with communities for healthier, more equitable food environments.
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