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In D.C., Where Kids Live Sets Tone for Weight-Loss Success

It took more than a decade to lure the new Giant to Ward 8. While the city is working to attract more full-time grocery stores, policymakers are betting they can spread fresh produce faster by targeting smaller shops. With a $188,000 grant from the Health Department, Ashbrook's group launched the Healthy Corner Store Initiative to persuade markets to provide space for fresh produce, low-sugar snacks and other nutritional upgrades.

The project, based on a successful effort in Baltimore, will help set up produce distribution to the stores, steer owners to grants to install refrigeration and market healthier items.

In March, FRAC hosted a meeting of almost 50 representatives from distributors, nutritionists, community groups and store owners to start designing the program. Organizers plan to begin with a smaller-scale Healthy Snack Initiative that will add low-fat chips and other lighter munchies at five pilot stores in wards 7 and 8.

Store owners are wary of stocking food that teens might not buy, said Gary Cha, president of the D.C. Korean Grocer's Association, who has signed up as a partner.

"If it's just going to sit on the shelves, they are wasting their time and efforts," said Cha, owner of four Yes! Organic Markets in Adams Morgan, Brookland, Capitol Hill and Cleveland Park. "Everyone needs to be educated about why these foods are better for them."

Danielle Dooley, a pediatrician who runs a weekly clinic at Eastern High School, said eating habits can be changed. When she realized that 60 percent of her students were overweight, she launched Eastern's 10-session seminar Charm School -- Choosing Healthy and Rewarding Meals.

A survey at the start of the session showed that most participants, on average, skipped breakfast; drank four sodas a day; ate at a corner store or had takeout food twice a day; had a television in their bedroom; and did not have a grocery store in their neighborhood. By the end of the seminar, Dooley found that students who had attended at least five classes had cut their consumption of fast food and sweetened beverages, watched less television and ate more fruits and vegetables.

"We found when we provided a really simple snack, fruit or a cereal bar, they really loved it," Dooley said.

Customers say the new Giant has made it easier to eat better.

Brian Bowling, 37, leaving with two of his children, proudly displayed a bag of apples. "I got apples -- I didn't come and get candy," said Bowling, who is raising six children. "I am trying to make a difference."

For the past year, Latrisha has lived a few miles away in Capitol Heights with Veronica Gray, who Latrisha calls "Godmother."

Gray is Latrisha's biggest weight-loss advocate. She attends most of the FitNut sessions with the fifth-grader, noting the tips and trying them in her kitchen.

Gray said discipline is hard to maintain in the face of the family's monthly "Soul Food Sunday." She and Latrisha still do their power cooking -- lining the table with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes and yams.

"If I see a whole rack of that food in front of me, I'm going to eat it, even if I'm not hungry," Latrisha said. "It's a habit."

Gray tries to lighten the fare at her house, occasionally serving turkey ham and leaving the fatback out of the greens. She also presses Latrisha to serve herself sensible portions, on "lady plates" instead of "truck driver plates."

On the other hand, she said, "we're not big drinkers or big smokers, but we have food," drawing out the word for emphasis. "That's the joy; that's the good feeling. Food is comforting. But in the long run, it is only hurting us."

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