Published by Daniel J. Kov in The Daily Journal
BRIDGETON – A government-community partnership designed to tackle local health issues will be officially unveiled Friday.
Residents will get the chance to learn more about the Live Healthy Cumberland County initiative, a program that ultimately seeks to improve the county’s poor health statistics and promote healthier living in the region.
“We’re trying to offer healthier efforts to the public,” Cumberland County Health Officer Megan Sheppard said. “We realize a lot of people shop at these corner stores daily, especially children. So we’re trying to put more fruits and vegetables at eye level — maybe they’ll choose that over candy.”
The United Health Foundation and the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute awarded $550,000 in funding to Cumberland County, Trenton and Jersey City to focus on two things — making healthy food more available at corner stores and promoting healthy lifestyles at participating businesses, according to Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella.
“There’s opportunities for people to go into these corner stores and markets and have the opportunity to get some educational stuff, healthy living and healthier diets,” Derella said. “It follows along with our initiatives to educate the public.”
About 27 businesses in the county have signed on so far, Sheppard said. The majority are in Bridgeton, a city with many corner stores.
This all means they will agree to make fruits, vegetables, canned foods, whole grains, produce and other healthy food items more prominent in their inventories and on the shelves.
“They’ll be greeted by health foods first and not the junk food,” Derella said.
The county’s incentives for these businesses to participate include advertising on their behalf, gift cards and coupons for shoppers, and more, according to Sheppard.
“We want to make sure that corner stores can offer the healthier options,” she said.
“Cumberland County is number one in agriculture production and revenue,” Derella said. “We should be having those things available to the residents in local stores.”
The other half of the initiative includes promoting a healthier lifestyle in the workplace.
With that, participating businesses will agree to create wellness committees in their workplaces and brainstorm ways to promote healthier lifestyles, be it group walks outdoors, healthier vending machine choices or other ideas.
“Simple changes that can increase the mentality of health in the workplace,” Sheppard said.
Six businesses have signed on so far, Sheppard said, with a dozen others in talks.
Those participating include the county itself, Gateway Action Partnership, CompleteCare, SNJ Today, the Bridgeton Public Library, SEB Group and SJI Services.
The hope is to lift Cumberland and Salem counties from their status as the state’s unhealthiest counties.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute recently released their 2016 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report, which ranked Cumberland dead last in the state in terms of health of its residents.
The rankings identified a number of areas of concern, including adult obesity, physical inactivity, low exercise opportunities, STDs, uninsured residents, low mammography screening, childhood poverty, violent crime, housing problems and more.
“Yes, we are the low end of the list in regards to healthy living, but we are moving forward to try and improve on that,” Derella said.
The program is actually an expanded form of Live Healthy Vineland, a partnership between the Vineland YMCA and the Vineland Health Department, which began last year and followed similar goals.
“We saw some success with the Vineland project and said we wanted to expand that into Bridgeton and Millville,” Sheppard said.