Improving access to healthy food choices in parts of Denver a challenge

DENVER -- Improving the healthy food options in the metro area is a big issue to tackle, and it has big health impacts.

Just ask Gary Pyle. He lives close to East Colfax Avenue in Aurora.

With no car, he walks or takes the bus to get groceries, and with limited cash, he ends up buying food from the corner store many days.

“If all you can get is junk food, then that's what you are going to buy unfortunately,” he said.

In the East Colfax neighborhood, 37 percent of low income people have low access to healthy food within a mile of their home, according to Denvermetrodata.org. That poses multiple health risks.

“So issues of diabetes and pre-diabetes going up, or higher rates of overweight and obesity,” said Wendy Peters Moschetti, with LiveWell Colorado.

The group is tackling the issue, along with government partners across the state.

“Having healthy foods  be abundant, and convenient, and easy, and affordable is absolutely critical,” she said.

The city of Denver has started a healthy corner store initiative.

“I'm working with small, usually independent, corner stores, markets to improve their inventory of fresh and healthy food,” program administrator Lindsay Saperstone said.

She said she helps the stores acquire coolers, gets sources and distribution, and works on marketing. But the results have been mixed.

“It can be limited profitability. Small stores are not able to buy in large volumes the way large supermarkets are,” Saperstone said.

She said she started working with 32 stores. Of those, 25 made inventory changes, and of those only 10 have stuck with it.

It’s a complicated issue, but an important one to figure out.

There are incentive programs such as “Double up food bucks Colorado.” That’s for people who get SNAP benefits, formerly called food stamps.

If SNAP shoppers spend $1 on an eligible item such as meat or eggs, then they receive $1 back that can be spent on Colorado-grown fresh fruits and vegetables.

It’s a one-for-one match, and could help them bring home more healthy foods.