Professor organizes New Brunswick health initiatives
A wellness initiative throughout New Brunswick, which aims to promote healthier diets for much of the city’s poor and immigrant populations, has been aided by the Rutgers community.
Nurgül Fitzgerald, an associate professor at the Department of Nutritional Sciences and an extension specialist in Nutrition and Public Health, has been one of the main organizers of the initiative.
The initiative is carried out in collaboration with the local corner stores, New Brunswick Community Food Alliance (NBCFA) and the New Brunswick Farmers Market. Fitzgerald helped found the latter two organizations, she told The Daily Targum in an interview.
One of the more recent events of the initiative has been the “Community Connections,” which was an event in October showcasing local healthy food at the Lincoln Annex School in New Brunswick. She said the event has been combined with FoodCorps, which has been teaching nutrition classes in the school.
“To grow the circle of knowledge and awareness through children, and to reach out to families through that additional layer, and hopefully establish healthier eating patterns, eating habits among children. That’s our goal,” Fitzgerald said.
When the Farmers Market visited the school in October, it promoted the healthy fruits and vegetables options available, she said.
Fitzgerald said for the future, the initiative will continue the FoodCorps classes and will stress physical activity. She also hopes to sponsor a “March Madness” nutritional event and scavenger hunts involving the long-running corner store initiative.
“The kids will find the healthier foods in the corner stores,” she said. “Then they will come back to the classrooms and have a discussion to find out the nutritional aspects of the foods.”
LOCAL CORNER STORES
The “Healthy Fresh, Healthy Corner Store” initiative, in collaboration with the NBCFA, is aiming to promote healthier and morefresh options in New Brunswick’s corner stores, Fitzgerald said. Her past research has shown that residents are using these stores quite often.
“We interviewed the owners,” she said. “We interviewed the customers of the corner stores, and the customers are there every week. Most of them are there multiple times a week.”
These stores are a convenience, especially for lower-income residents with transportation issues, she said.
Nine of the corner stores in New Brunswick have added healthier food items into their inventory and have been given fresh food baskets near the cash register where the produce is more visible to the customers. Fitzgerald said the stores are also putting signs on the shelves promoting healthier foods for the customers.
“These stores become a convenient solution,” she said. “To get what they need, in a short amount of time and near where they live. So that’s why we have been doing the healthy corner store initiative in New Brunswick in the past few years.”
The initiative is funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, New Jersey Health Initiative and the New Jersey Healthy Communities Network. Funding has been guaranteed for another year at least, Fitzgerald said. She hopes to implement a system that maintains the activities and nutrition curriculum at the Lincoln Annex School.
There are no short-term solutions for improving the nutrition for children and adults nationwide, she said. The majority of children, for decades, have not met the recommended intake levels for fruits and vegetables.
There has been some improvement in the last decade with children eating whole fruits rather than juice, which does not provide the same amount of benefits. She said the amounts of vegetable intake have remained consistently steady.
People’s diets, Fitzgerald said, are affected by outside factors such as families, schools, workplaces and marketing. If these factors are promoting unhealthy diets, it becomes a cycle.
“We should not give up,” she said. “This is a long-term struggle, so we have to keep at it.”
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