Lower-income and minority groups face significant health disparities with respect to obesity, cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions. Poor diets, low in fruits and vegetables (F&V) and high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar, contribute to many of the health problems faced by vulnerable groups. While poverty, low- educational attainment and personal food preference are all associated with reduced F&V consumption, these individual-level factors must be viewed in an environmental context. Research has repeatedly demonstrated the important role that environment plays on health decisions and behaviors. Compared with higher-income neighborhoods, lower-income and minority neighborhoods are less likely to have a supermarket that sells a variety of F&V and other healthy foods. This is perpetuated by an underlying misconception that there is limited demand or potential profit for new healthy food ventures in these communities. In the few cases where new food outlets have opened in underserved areas, they have been met with substantial customer support. The NC Green Cart program hopes to demonstrate that selling affordable, accessible F&V in lower-income communities is not only financially viable, but can impact behavioral risk factors of individuals in target communities. The NC Green Cart program will build on burgeoning support for a local sustainable food system in NC and leverage a public-private partnership to increase access to fresh F&V in underserved communities. Using a weekly mobile market model, the program will deliver low-cost boxes of fresh F&V to easily accessible community locations (such as churches and day care centers) and provide nutrition and cooking education. Working together with the Green Cart team, this project will 1.) measure the impact of a mobile market at 6, 12 and 18 months on the primary outcome of F&V consumption as well as perceived access to F&V and self- efficacy to purchase, prepare, serve and eat fresh F&V using a randomized controlled design;2.) assess community support, feasibility, and financial sustainability of the public-private Green Cart partnership;and 3.) explore policy-related barriers and facilitators to the public-private Green Cart operation that could influence future growth and dissemination of the model. Results of this research will inform our understanding of how the food environment impacts dietary choices and provide evidence for researchers, businesses, non-profits and policy makers on the potential impact and viability of using similar models to reduce food access disparities and improve diet.
We will measure the impact and sustainability of a public-private mobile market program to increase access to and demand for fresh F&V in underserved communities where F&V consumption is low and obesity and disease rates are high. This research will help elucidate the role the food environment plays in dietary choices of vulnerable groups and may provide evidence of a viable model for improving diet and health by growing local food systems and stimulating business in underserved communities.