Updated: Monday, 10 Jan 2011, 11:30 PM EST
Published : Monday, 10 Jan 2011, 10:40 PM EST
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - To get to the Meijer at 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue SE in Grand Rapids, Shelley Riley of Kentwood goes past plenty of smaller corner shops that don't have much healthy food to offer.
"You usually have to go far out to get quality stuff," she said.
And there's not always time to make that long trek.
"You just have to get what you can sometimes," Riley said. So, she admitted, she doesn't always eat what she should. "Cheetos, definitely," the Kentwood woman said with a laugh.
The FIT Stores program, part of the anti-childhood obesity Project FIT, is aimed at better options.
"You need to have an apple and a Twinkie to choose from," said Tracy Thompson, an outreach specialist with the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine's Institute for Health Care Studies. "If you only have the Twinkie, that's all you're going to choose."
Michigan ranks among the top 10 U.S. states for adult obesity -- and rates are higher in minority communities in the state. Michigan adults who are obese have higher rates of arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, heart disease, heart attacks, stroke and diabetes, according to a state report.
Project FIT, which is funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, targets childhood obesity and partners with Grand Rapids Public Schools and four district elementary schools with significant minority populations.
Now, the project is hoping to work with smaller food stores in those same neighborhoods -- near Buchanan, Campus, Chavez and Dickinson elementary schools -- where not everyone has an easy way to head out to the nearest full supermarket.
"Access in a neighborhood can increase the numbers of times a family could eat fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy funds," Thompson said.
The project, with the help of local nonprofit Neighborhood Ventures, Inc., is looking for stores to be partners.
"We recognize that this is a business," she said. "They're in business to make money. They're not just there to help the neighborhood."
So, in addition to funding, which helps with things such as more shelf space, refrigeration for fresh foods and nutritional advice, Project FIT plans to help the stores market their new products.
Four to six stores will likely be picked for now, Thompson said. The one-time cash infusion should be enough to help the stores sustain their new offerings, she said. More money would be needed to expand the number of stores participating.
The program is also working on one of Riley's biggest complaints about some neighborhood stores: the cost.
"We're working on how we can give [the stores] access for cheaper purchasing of those items," Thompson said.