Evaluating Corner Store Programs

NGOs and cities throughout the US have launched programs to help the owners of bodegas, convenience stores, liquor stores and other small food establishments sell healthier food.  A concise article published by the Centers for Disease Control summarizes the evaluations of these programs to determine whether they have an impact on food availability, diet, and other factors that influence diet-related diseases.*
Among the findings:
Overall, the foods that were being promoted by these pilot programs were more available in the stores as a result of the pilots.  Where sales data were collected they showed that the programs resulted in significant increases in the sales of the promoted foods.  Produce sales, in particular, increased 25% to 50%.
Seven programs resulted in increased food and health-related knowledge among consumers, while 9 programs found significantly increased purchasing frequency of at least one promoted food.
Of 4 trial programs that assessed impacts on body mass index, no significant changes were observed from pre- to post-pilot.
Price reductions in the form of discounts, coupons, vouchers, and loans were (not surprisingly) found to increase consumer demand for and consumption of healthier foods.
The data suggests that these programs can make healthier food available in communities with limited full-service grocers and encourage the purchase of healthier food. Unfortunately, however, the evaluations have been insufficient to answer whether and to what extent they work, or whether certain interventions are more effective than others. The evaluative methods varied significantly, limiting the ability to compare the program impacts across the different pilots, and did not involve randomized controlled trials that would provide greater reliability.
More systematic evaluative data would help policymakers and philanthropic organizations decide how cost effective corner store programs are and the extent to which this is a viable strategy for increasing food access and improving public health.
*Gittelsohn J, Rowan M, Gadhoke P. Interventions in small food stores to change the food environment, improve diet, and reduce risk of chronic disease. Prev Chronic Dis 2012;9:110015. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd9.110015 .

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