C-Stores Get an Opportunity for Redemption

CSP backing the Partnership for a Healthier America's annual conference
partnership for a healthier america

CHICAGO -- Yet another study is pointing its finger at convenience stores for the ills of the nation. While the report is new, the conclusions are not. The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study has been following a group of men and women since 1985 to study factors related to heart disease.

Researchers recently used the results of the study to compare environmental factors that may contribute to heart issues. Specifically, they looked at the number of convenience stores that are within 2 miles of each patient’s home and compared it to a decade’s worth of the patient’s coronary artery calcium test results, according to a summary published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“After adjusting for various factors, researchers discovered participants had a 34% increase in the likelihood of developing atherosclerosis with each 10% increase in nearby convenience stores,” the report says.

“An increase in convenience stores may make unhealthy eating options more readily accessible,” said Kiarri Kershaw, a social epidemiologist and a professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, and the study’s senior author. “It may also be a marker for a larger set of changes occurring in a neighborhood that could influence health, like a decline in wealth or economic investment.”

A similar link between fast-food restaurants and atherosclerosis was less conclusive, leading researchers to conclude that c-stores “have a wider array of unhealthy food and consumption options, including cigarettes and alcohol.”

On the surface, it’s hard to argue with the conclusions drawn by the study. Yes, c-stores trade on “sin” and junk-food products: beer, tobacco, soft drinks, candy and chips. But once again the venue for the purchase of such products has become the scapegoat.

The headlines of news stories reporting on the study call out the retail channel rather than the products. Even the American Heart Association’s headline overgeneralizes with “Living Near Convenience Stores Could Raise Risk of Artery-Clogging Condition.”

Desert Mentality

The real issue goes back to a subject CSP has been watching for nearly a decade: food deserts [CSP—June ’11, p. 48].

Back in 2010, former first lady Michelle Obama made beating food deserts—neighborhoods where residents have little access to stores that sell fresh foods—part of her Let’s Move initiative to overcome obesity in the U.S. She also called out c-stores as perpetuating the issue, calling them “places that offer few, if any, healthy options.”

Since then, NACS, several retailers and six prominent c-store distributors have joined the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to change this perception and help ensure children and families across the country have healthier options available wherever they are. For retailers, this means committing to maintaining and building upon healthy food choices; making those choices more affordable; and supporting healthier options through in-store marketing and promotions.

C-stores have become scapegoats for unhealthy eating.

It’s with that backdrop that I’m proud to announce CSP is partnering with PHA as a media sponsor of the PHA Summit: Accelerating a Healthier Future. The event will be held April 1-2 in Chicago, and it will bring more than 500 people together to identify ways to resolve the challenge of healthier eating.

I embrace PHA’s goal of finding “solutions to some of the toughest challenges at the intersection of food, business and health.” And I’d like to see this issue resolved so that the perception of c-stores change from food-desert pariah to a respected outlet for all types of food—from the indulgent, salt- and calorie-laden products to the fresh and healthy options that retailers are regularly adding to their store shelves. After all, a key attribute of food deserts is that supermarket retailers refuse to open stores in those neighborhoods.

On some level, shouldn’t c-stores get a thank-you for being there at all?

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