“Where you live is probably a bigger determinant of your health than whether you have health insurance,” as quoted in a Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII) report from 2008. In West Oakland, where 45% of the residents make under $25,000 a year, according to statistics from Mandela Market Place, liquor stores outnumber food outlets 2 to 1.
Here, low-income residents have two options for their grocery shopping: the local corner store with cheap, processed food and alcohol or the distant grocery store with actual produce. The lack of access to healthy food stems from problems in education, health, social, and economic policies.
These components all clash in the neighborhood. Areas with greater poverty and a higher percentage of minorities have far more outlets that provide fast food, alcohol and tobacco than those that provide healthy foods, as revealed in a 2008 report from BARHII.
West Oakland is a victim of deeply rooted historical implications, stemmed from socially biased urban planning. In order to improve the social and physical environments, changes must be made in the policies that govern land use, transportation and economic development.
In order to achieve health equity in West Oakland there needs to be a comprehensive effort towards revitalization and sustainability. This must come from changes in policy that affect land use, transportation and economics as well as innovative action from urban planners.
Efforts from within the community are beginning to make a difference and set an example for future initiatives. The Healthy Neighborhood Stores Alliance, a program by the Mandela Market Place, delivers produce to local liquor stores in West Oakland. Mariel Cedeño of Mandela Market Place is quoted saying, “We wanted to make it accessible in the community to buy where they already go. We want a person to go into a liquor store and the first thing they see to be produce, and not chips or cigarettes or alcohol.”
This is far more complex issue than meets the eye. If you were to revive West Oakland, what policies would you implement?
Credits: Photos copyright of Robert Poole. Data linked to sources.