Understanding What Motivates People Helps to Chart the Course to a Healthier Community
There’s a common metaphor used to teach children the value of healthy eating: Imagine your body as a car. Fuel your car with good, healthy food—like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains—and your car will be fast and run well. Put bad fuel in your car, and it won’t be able to run at all. It will sputter along to each destination, often requiring pit stops. In your car, good intentions and action yield immediate, positive results.
What happens when those little vehicles drive home after school, back to communities where healthy fuel isn’t available? Where healthy living might not be a priority in their garages? In the past eight years in Philadelphia, in-school interventions contributed to lower obesity rates, but neighborhood corner stores were still making it easy for kids to consume excessive calories and junk food. It was clear the environment outside the schools had to change if these children and their parents could fuel their lives in healthy ways.
The Food Trust
The foundation’s partnership with The Food Trust began in 2004 with a Healthy Corner Store Initiative that urged corner stores—identified by middle school students in areas that could be targeted as hubs of healthy eating and safe physical activity—to offer more healthy food. The owners responded, and began stocking and promoting healthier items. Today, more than 640 corner stores now participate in the Healthy Corner Store Initiative. Collectively, these stores have since added over 18,000 new healthy food products to their shelves.
More than twenty years ago, The Food Trust also began one farm stand in a neighborhood where fresh produce wasn’t available. Last year, an estimated 400,000 people visited their network of farmers’ markets, and over the last three years, food stamp sales have risen by more than 300 percent at the 10 farmer’s markets in the lowest income areas.
We’re humbled to think our partnership with The Food Trust has contributed to the citywide reversal of childhood obesity rates. It’s also fascinating how our work with this health portfolio partner has earned lessons in commerce, social progress and teenagers.
Different Motivations Drive Different People
People make decisions based on what drives them, so you have to listen closely to understand their motivation. Kids attended in-school health programs. They heard the car metaphor countless times. But most 15-year-olds have a hard time relating to juvenile examples or to prevention of heart disease or type 2 diabetes, illnesses kids view as “old people diseases.” What is important to teenagers? Healthy habits can clear skin of acne, improve performance in sports and academics, and keep a body in good shape. Once being healthy was relevant, the teens’ purchase habits changed, and they became involved in the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, thus the demand for healthier food options increased.
Business owners make decisions that drive revenue. Just because you build something, it doesn’t mean people will come. Some corner store owners and farmers willing to join the movement to saturate Philly neighborhoods with healthy foods couldn’t make business decisions based on their moral compass or concern regarding childhood health. They needed to make a profit to remain operational; the challenge was creating and sustaining demand that would benefit early-adopters of a healthier inventory. By aligning the motivations of teenagers with the motivations of business owners, the Food Trust was able to create a sustainable balance in supply and demand.
Listening Leads to Sustained Change
Healthy environments are established through an understanding of the people who reside in them. Increasing access to affordable, healthy foods requires collaboration and was accomplished in Philadelphia differently than in San Jose or Houston. Community members perceived as uninterested in healthier lifestyles needed to have better resources available where they live, not just receive education on healthier habits that were difficult to adopt given environmental factors.
Changes that impact an entire community or that lower obesity rates over the course of several years are far from immediate. But if we focus on listening to what people need, when they need it, good intentions and action can yield positive results.
- GIVING REPORT: The Food Trust
- BLOG POST: Sandy Sherman: Childhood obesity—Kids, corner stores and the power of the purse
- BLOG POST: Yael Lehmann: Fighting childhood obesity in Philly: How we got where we are today
- PARTNER RESOURCE: The Food Trust: New report released on healthy food access and why it matters
- PARTNER RESOURCE: Video: Corner stores help clean up obesity
- PARTNER RESOURCE: How Activists Helped Turn the Tide on Childhood Obesity
- PARTNER RESOURCE: Abstract: Snacking in Children: The Role of Urban Corner Stores