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New signs highlight an array of fresh produce at the Los Compadres Market and Restaurant. HEAC staff built a relationship with the owner over three years.

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Baldwin Park Corner Stores

Baldwin Park's residents and "Healthy Teens on the Move" take campaign for healthy food choices to corner stores located near schools

The City of Baldwin Park, 20 miles inland from downtown Los Angeles, began as an agricultural region in the 1860s. Today, this suburb of more than 75,000 residents is mostly young (two out of three are under age 35) and Hispanic (four out of five), and finding nutritious, affordable food is a challenge. According to the Retail Food Study by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, for every supermarket or farmers market, Baldwin Park has six corner stores and liquor stores, far exceeding the statewide ratio of one to four.

"Healthy Teens on the Move," an advocacy committee of students from two local high schools in Baldwin Park, have made it their mission to improve Baldwin Park's physical activity and food environment for local children, of whom one in three is overweight. Taking their concerns before the City Council and School Board, the teens were actively involved in bringing healthy changes to school cafeterias, where lunch time was increased and salad bars were brought in. Fresh fruit is now standard fare and the sale of junk food is banned, in accordance with State-mandated nutrition standards. Beyond the schools, Baldwin Park also passed the first city ordinance in California to ensure that 100% of foods and beverages sold in city-sponsored youth facilities, including a vibrant new teen center, complied with the same State nutrition standards (S.B. 12 and S.B. 965) that now regulated food sales in schools.

But schools and youth centers are not the only places that children buy food. In fact, at convenience stores located near schools throughout the city, young people account for most of the business, stopping in daily on their way to and from school. Healthy Teens on the Move recognized that these stores were a critical part of the food environment, too.

Working closely with Christina Cardenas, Advocate Coordinator for the Healthy Eating, Active Communities (HEAC) initiative in Baldwin Park, a group of 10th through 12th graders conducted a Cornerstore Marketing Audit in the spring of 2007. "We mapped out cornerstores and small markets and found 17 of them within a two-mile radius surrounding schools," says Cardenas. Armed with cameras and notepads, they also documented the marketing environment and the presence of junk food within each store.

Cardenas was not surprised by what the group found. "Candy, chips, soda, and beer were in front of the store. Fruit, water, and milk were in the back. In terms of nutrition bars, peanuts, baked chips, and other nutritious snacks, there were few or none. Produce areas, if they existed at all, were poorly marked and maintained, and of very limited range."

Nor was she surprised that several store owners did not allow the surveys to take place. "We understood that we needed to develop relationships through education and awareness-building with these owners in order to be successful," says Cardenas.

Undeterred, the teens and residents worked with Judy Rabbani, HEAC marketing consultant, to help make the case to store owners that strengthening their healthy offerings was a win-win proposition. Not only was it good for children's health, it was good for business. "During these difficult economic times," says Cardenas, "the owners began to see that this was actually an innovative business practice, a new healthy-offerings market niche that could bring in more customers."

In the end, eight businesses were willing to collaborate with HEAC in the "Healthy Selection" program. Each store made a commitment to develop in-store Healthy Selection areas, share consumer nutrition handouts, place stickers and signage on healthy options, and be featured as part of a marketing campaign that included attractive new signage, free ads in the local newspaper and on cable access TV, recognition on the city's web site, and inclusion in a press release. Resulting media coverage included two upbeat photo-illustrated newspaper articles about the stores.

The project's success depended on perseverance backed by thorough preparation at every step. The youth activists met every Saturday for several months. After deciding on their goals, they received training and guidance from the Berkeley Media Studies Group and from the L.A. County Department of Public Health, which helped them to develop the survey tool they would use for their Cornerstore Marketing Audit. To carry out the survey they split up in adult-chaperoned teams to cover all the stores. Finally they analyzed their findings and compiled a report and recommendations that they presented to the City Council.

The students learned that junk food manufacturers spend millions of dollars a year marketing their unhealthy brands to young people. One of the ways they wanted to fight back was by creating their own "Healthy Selection" logo to identify all products that met State school nutrition standards. They held an open design competition, and now signs and stickers of the winning logo, designed by Sierra Vista High School senior, are posted throughout the eight participating stores, serving as a helpful guide for customers of all ages.

"Labeling 'Healthy Selections' is the first step in changing business practices," say Cardenas. "It has allowed us to get our foot in the door and begin a relationship with store owners, which is crucial to achieving permanent policy change in collaboration with the City of Baldwin Park."

That relationship will be strengthened by the City's concurrent "Healthy Baldwin Park" campaign. As part of a strategy to strengthen and promote small businesses while improving community health, Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano is developing a recognition program whereby businesses will earn the right to display a "Healthy Baldwin Park" banner and a plaque from the city honoring their participation in the program.

Competing banners advertising beer and soft drinks are not likely to go away. But "a program that supports small stores with signs advertising healthier food will be good for our community," said one student. "It should tell kids and their parents that eating healthy is more important than anything."

For more information:

Learn about the community of Baldwin Park.

Christina Cardenas, Advocate Coordinator, HEAC Baldwin Park, (626) 962-5022,

Judy Rabbani, HEAC Marketing Consultant, (626) 962-5900,