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Urban planner Jackie Illum describes the efforts being made to bring healthy eating options to the the Boyle Heights food swamp.
As I walk down Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, the smell of exhaust and greasy, salty, tasty foods overwhelms my nose. The street is shaded yet colorful, cramped yet large -- filled with everything from fruit vendors to bacon wrapped hot dog vendors, taquerias, bodegas, and stores selling everything from household items to inexpensive fashion from across the globe. Walking down First Street near Mariachi Plaza, a completely different vibe is felt. It is much sunnier, and while there may be fewer people out and about, more of those people are lingering, relaxing, enjoying their afternoon in the sun. Mariachi Plaza has a rich history in Boyle Heights, and it is a lovely place to people watch. Cars pull over to make event arrangements with mariachis, people enjoy their lunch in the warm sun, and people gather to voice their thoughts. As a relatively new Angeleno, Boyle Heights has become one of my favorite neighborhoods. It has so many interesting layers of history to be uncovered and learned about, so many wonderful people and organizations, and such an air of constant buzz and hope as things are changing for the better. Wall after wall covered in vibrant murals, young folks walking the streets and creating movements to improve the community and neighborhood in which they grew up.
Through the UCLA-USC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities (CPHHD), Proyecto MercadoFRESCO is part of a multi-pronged approach to improving the health outcomes in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, specifically targeting the reduction of cardiovascular disease.
As fascinating a neighborhood as I think Boyle Heights is, the healthy eating options are limited. I haven't actually counted, but I would bet that for every fresh apple available, there are at least fifty tacos, hot dogs, or hamburgers available to the public. Today's Boyle Heights population is 94 percent Latino, with an average household income of $33,000. Compared to the City of Los Angeles, residents have around $20,000 less per household to spend on housing, food, transportation, and other expenses. On average, family sizes are larger in Boyle Heights than citywide, further stretching dollars. Residents experience disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease -- also known as racial and ethnic health disparities. Children are even experiencing these diseases -- 26% of children in 5th, 7th, and 9th grades suffer from obesity. The worst part about all of this? These diseases are preventable. Poor diet and lack of physical activity, both made possible by barriers to health in Boyle Heights, are often the leading factors. The chart below shows the high rates of these health conditions in Los Angeles County, with African American and Latino populations suffering more than everyone else.