New Week, New You: Program aimed at improving, promoting healthy living for South Side residents

Initiative bringing healthier foods to residents in food deserts

SAN ANTONIO – There is a new initiative underway supported by several groups across the city to improve the quality of life of South Side residents by offering more healthy choices for food, comprised of mainly fruits and vegetables.

Residents who live on the South Side of San Antonio will not live as long as people who live on the North Side by about 10 to 20 years and they have a 35% to 40% chance of having diabetes, according a study from the University of the Incarnate Word.

Dr. Anil Mangla, director of public health and associate professor at the University of the Incarnate Word, led the study at UIW for about two years on food deserts, the designation given to an area where there are no major grocery stores in the community.

“We knew from our study that you can actually reduce the amount of blood sugar in an individual just by exercise and by (eating) fresh produce,” Mangla said.

The problem the study also showed was a lack of accessibility to fresh fruits and vegetables without a major grocer in the area.

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran got the city to grant $50,000 to start the Viva SA Healthy Corner Store Initiative.

Five convenience stores, now called Corner Stores, carry fresh produce, from tomatoes, apples and oranges to avocados and potatoes.

“You can walk to the store and get fresh fruits and vegetables. That is going to be the access, and that is going to be the game-changer for our community,” Viagran said.

“People may not have transportation and may not be able to get around, so this is our way of targeting the community as a whole without having them leave their house to get to a larger grocery store,” said Emma Santa Maria, director of professional development at UIW.

The project has been underway for two months, and the success of it has been judged based on purchasing and waste.

“We have seen an increase in the amount of sales of fresh produce compared to the baseline that we had prior to the project,” Mangla said.

Researchers have also seen a decrease in waste. They're now looking for more increases in health and in the youth of the community taking part in serious healthy eating.

“We have to make sure our young people are taught healthy food eating habits. How can they learn that if they don’t have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables?” Viagran said.

Program organizers are conducting cooking classes at the stores so customers can get the most out of their food. More stores are also applying to be a part of the program.