Local Retailers make Small Changes for Good Health

NEWPORT - In an effort to encourage Vermonters to be healthy, the Department of Health has kicked off a campaign to encourage shoppers to make wise decisions. Healthy Retailers promotes "Small Change, Big Impact."Jen Black, of Northeast Kingdom Learning Services, is facilitating the local program aimed at independent food stores. Jimmy Kwik, Ray’s Market, and Westfield General Store are working with the program and more independent stores are expected to come on board later this year.Vermont is the healthiest state in the nation, said Black, but numbers show there is a lot of obesity, especially in Orleans and Northern Essex Counties.“It’s a chronic disease prevention campaign,” explained Black. Prior to the campaign, the Department of Health conducted in-store audits across the state. The survey asked how many ads there were for alcohol and tobacco products and what types of food the store carried. The surveys revealed that there was a lot of advertising for tobacco and alcohol products at waist level for adults, but at eye level for children. Adults may not realize that some advertising focuses on children.“That was surprising to me,” said Black. “I don’t think it’s intentional for the retailers.”After completing the audits, the Department of Health approached owners of the stores to talk about advertising. The Department of Health asked participating stores to remove tobacco and alcohol signs and replace them with signs that encourage healthy purchases.“It’s a small change, big impact," said Black.Store owners could decide how they wanted to participate.The Department of Health also conducted opinion surveys that asked community members questions such as what they think about advertising and how they felt about pharmacies selling alcohol. So far, the program is going well, but the sign change is still in the early stages, Black said.The goal of the program is for Vermonters to stop unhealthy practices like eating improperly and using alcohol and tobacco products. The benefit for the store owner is he or she gets to be part of a project and gets free materials. Black said she would not ask store owners to stop selling certain products, but maybe ask that they did not put advertising where a child can see it.“The idea of the project is not at all to harm the retailers,” said Black. “They’re the hub of the community and they need to be supported.”