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Wisconsin partners create retail toolkits for healthier eating.

A PROJECT THAT has grown from one Wisconsin community to span almost the entire state is making healthy eating easier for residents.

Assessing the Nutrition Environment of Wisconsin Communities Project is a University of Wisconsin-Madison-based collaboration between academic, public health and community partners to better understand nutrition availability and education in Wisconsin and to identify strategies to reduce state obesity through changes in the nutrition environment. Partners include the University of Wisconsin Department of Population Health Sciences and Department of Nutritional Sciences, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Wisconsin Partnership for Activity and Nutrition, Waupaca County Nutrition and Activity Coalition and Portage County Can Coalition.

Since 2008, the project's leaders have worked on three major projects: to evaluate the food environment in restaurants and food stores in communities where a sample of Survey of the Health of Wisconsin participants reside, to study how the food environment is related to individuals' diet and health status and to pilot an intervention in food stores and restaurants.

Waupaca Eating Smart was the start of the project, with a small-scale survey of the town and its food outlets, said Jennifer Valdivia Espino, a predoctoral fellow in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, APHA member and research assistant with the program.

Project participants were able to map every food outlet and assess food availability, quality and price, as well as identifying facilitators and barriers to healthy eating.

The project grew, and its leaders created two toolkits, Order Up Healthy and Check Out Healthy, to disseminate practices that were effective in promoting healthy eating. As a result, the toolkits are available in nearly every county in the state.

Order Up Healthy is designed to address restaurants in Wisconsin. Local health leaders and public health practitioners can use the toolkit to help the restaurant industry learn to increase the availability of healthier foods and beverages. Those offerings can help people make healthier choices when ordering out. The strategies featured in Order Up Healthy are evidence-based and include stories from the field to show how to put suggestions into practice, said principal investigator Ana Martinez-Donate, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an APHA member.

Check Out Healthy addresses the same issues, but with food retailers, such as grocery stores.

The project partners said the goal of Check Out Healthy is to help food retailers increase the availability of and access to healthier foods and beverages, while promoting fruits, vegetables and drinking water, to create healthy communities, Martinez-Donate said.

Since the project began receiving funding in 2008 through the Wisconsin Partnership Program, it has been able to expand, thanks to coalition and team building between communities, said Amy Meinen MPH, RD, CD, director of the Wisconsin Obesity Prevention Network and a project member.

"We have a history in our state with working closely with coalitions ... and creating resources," Meinen told The Nation's Health. "This grant has allowed us to not only build collaboration between government, communities and researchers, we've also been able to partner with industry."

Meinen said that anecdotally, it seemed that healthy food access has increased across the state. The next step for the project members is to evaluate the impact of the toolkits. Because of the state's collaborative efforts between counties, project leaders will be able to see what strategies communities are implementing to improve healthy food access and reduce obesity rates.

"We are hoping to obtain funding to evaluate the effectiveness of these toolkits, but we are also eager to disseminate the material to encourage communities to take action, collaborate with business (and) industry and bring about a nationwide conversation about improving the environment in which consumers make choices about healthy eating," Valdivia Espino told The Nation's Health.

To access Order Up Healthy and Check Out Healthy for free, visit www.dhs.wisconsin.gov.
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Title Annotation:STATE & LOCAL: Issues at the state and community levels
Author:Wahowiak, Lindsey
Publication:The Nation's Health
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Mar 1, 2015
Words:643
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