Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Inconvenient Truth: Food, Obesity & Anacostia

Obesity an easy choice for anyone living in downtown Anacostia. The one thing that motivates me to continue blogging about health in Anacostia is our embarrassing food desert. Convenience stores, corner stores, chinese food, and fried "soul" food clog up every nook and cranny of Historic Anacostia.

Photo by Davin Rusk
Imagine a mom ending a late night shift and coming home at 11:30pm after a 2-hour commute to feed her family. Preparing a nice home-cooked meal for her family is probably not an option. The easiest option is to call in for sodium drenched carry-out wings and fries combo.
Nutritious, NO. Fast, YES!
Social critic Clotaire Rapaille would argue that education is not enough to shift a culture of obesity. Others would say that self-motivation is the only thing that an individual can do. Academics and activists site food injustices as the source for short-gratification food consumption. And most blame government food subsidies, WIC and high fructose corn syrup.

I say convenience is both the problem and the solution to obesity. Our residents must create and demand from our urban planners and business leaders easier access to healthy and affordable food. When it is conveneient and easy to make a healthy lifestyle choice, most people will easily adjust their behavior. If walking to the neigborhoood corner store to buy fresh broccoli is just as easy as purchasing a bag of Rap Snacks, residents will make an educated decision. When a short 5 minute commute to haul fresh groceries for a family of 5 is just as easy as hauling a 40 oz, then we will see a significant change in the health of our community.

My daily excursions in Southeast force me to ask serious questions about low-income neighborhoods, obesity and poverty. First of all, obesity is an American epidemic so why would I single out Anacostia? I focus on Anacostia because in Washington DC, the health food disparity is shameful. Why are so many young women overweight, what are the factors contributing to obesity? Am I viewing and labeling their bodies through a judgmental perspective? The obvious next step is education. But what types of community mobilization will inspire residents to make personal and intellectual food choices that lead to long-term and sustainable health behavior changes.

One example of a successful health vendor in the hood is St. Louis' The Juice Box. These two community health advocates hijacked a corner store and started selling fresh foods and vegetables, sort of like a co-op. I along with others believe that this would work and are working to bring healthy food options to Anacostia.

For more info on how you can get involved, email

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