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Fighting for Food Access in North Carolina

 

PreventObesity.net Leader Pam Seamans is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Alliance for Health, a statewide coalition that advocates for policies that promote wellness. This week, the Inside Track got the chance to talk to Pam and learn more about what the Alliance does in North Carolina. If you’d like to learn more, please contact Pam through her PreventObesity.net profile.

What inspired your team to get involved in the childhood obesity movement?

The North Carolina Alliance for Health (NCAH) started 12 years ago as a coalition working on tobacco policy at the state level. After several years of working on only tobacco, it became apparent that there was a strong need for a coalition to work on obesity-related policy as well. So we expanded our mission. We also had many partners at the table who were already invested in child health, so it made sense. We have a strong commitment to the health of North Carolina, including its children. Our current mission is to advocate for policies that promote wellness and reduce the impact of tobacco and obesity, including in children.

What does your organization do to help eliminate childhood obesity?

Right now we are focused on addressing food access issues. Many people in our state cannot afford or access healthy foods, making it very difficult for them to lead a healthy lifestyle. There are several ways to address these barriers, but one solution is to ensure that a variety of retail options exist which carry affordable healthy food. NCAH is currently working on a Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which if created, would provide North Carolina residents living in food deserts with improved access to fresh produce, dairy, and meats. Because an unhealthy diet is a leading cause of obesity, we hope that by providing citizens, and specifically children, with access to fresh fruits and vegetables, we can decrease the rate of childhood obesity and chronic disease in North Carolina.

What have been your biggest challenges so far? And your biggest success?

So far our biggest challenge has been educating the public on the issues surrounding childhood obesity, including its causes. Many people do not realize that 20 percent of North Carolinians are food insecure, and therefore are at a higher risk for obesity and other chronic diseases. We are, however, having success in helping people understand the severity of this issue by working collaboratively with our partners. We have had four successful trainings on food access, including one in Charlotte, which was attended by close to 100 people. These trainings have been conducted in partnership with Sow Much Good, Youth Empowered Solutions, and local YMCAs.

The NCAH is working to improve access to healthy foods through healthy food retail. We were able to draw attention to a big problem for low-income residents in Raleigh-- a food desert created when grocery stores left the area. Our best success story, though, might be that of David Rizek. David is the owner of a healthy corner store in Pitt County. David participated in the initial pilot project conducted in the state and not only still owns and operates a healthy corner store, but is opening a second store in a food desert area.                              

What have you learned in your work?

We have seen the benefits of working in a coalition as the best way to attain our policy goals. When we have many organizations speaking together, we are able to demonstrate the broad support behind our policy goals. As a result, the policy “ask” is stronger and more unified. It is also helpful to have diverse perspectives at the table. Finally, through all of our coalition partners, NCAH has a wider reach to those interested in the issue across the state, allowing us to mobilize more people to help educate decision makers about the importance of NCAH’s policy priorities. 

How can people get involved with your organization?

They can contact our Coalition Manager, Morgan Wittman Gramann at morgan@ncallianceforhealth.org or (919) 463-8329. They can also visit our website: www.ncallianceforhealth.org. The website has links to our membership application as well as our resolutions in support of access to healthy food, quality physical education programs and child nutrition standards. They can also like us on Facebook (North Carolina Alliance for Health) and follow us on Instagram (NCAlliance4Health) and Twitter (NCAlliance4Hlth). People are also welcome to attend our quarterly membership meetings. The next meeting will be held on March 2, 2015, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at the American Heart Association office in Morrisville.