A little fruit could go a long way in helping kids develop healthier eating habits, and now at Harps Foods kids may get a little fruit for free.
For the past two months, in the produce section at all 80 Harps Foods stores in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, parents have found a little basket offering a free banana, apple or orange for their children.
Mike Roberts, produce manager for Harps Foods, said the company decided to make the offering to help develop healthier eating habits. The produce that is set out for the kids to eat in the store is washed, Roberts added.
“We don’t track how much it costs to do this because it’s not a big expense,” Roberts said. “It’s more about the customer’s experience. … It’s a small investment for us that’s great for everybody. … It’s exciting for the kids and it makes mom’s or dad’s experience a little better.”
Sugary foods are practically everywhere these days, Roberts points out, and not only are the young grocery-store goers future customers, but they belong to a generation that has seen a steady increase in obesity.
“We want kids to eat healthy,” Roberts said.
Teaching the younger generations to eat better is also an economic move toward higher productivity and lower health care costs.
According to the latest 10-year Healthy Active Arkansas plan from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the average annual total cost of health care for normal weight and obese Arkansans shows costs increased with age at a greater rate for the obese group.
“The cost difference was 8 percent at ages 10-14, progressively growing to 104 percent by ages 65-74.9,” the report states. “Reducing the average BMI (body mass index) of Arkansans by only 5 percent could lead to health-care savings of more than $2 billion in 10 years and $6 billion in 20 years, while also preventing thousands of cases of stroke, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cancer.”
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, “for the first time in our nation’s history obese children and teens are developing chronic diseases formerly seen on in adults.” Obesity has been connected to high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, the department adds.
Harps has worked with the River Valley Regional Food Bank in the past to hold classes at the Grand Avenue Harps Foods store to teach methods of eating healthy on a budget, Roberts said. The Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention points out that maintaining a healthy diet is difficult for families who don’t have convenient access to affordable healthy foods.
“In too many neighborhoods, families are surrounded by high calorie, low nutritional value options with minimal if any access to affordable healthy foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables,” the coalition states at ArkansasObesity.org.
About 14.2 percent of children age 2-4 and 20 percent of those 10-17 in Arkansas are considered obese, according to the State of Obesity 2015 study, sponsored by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Health Active Arkansas plan stresses that Arkansas has the potential to be a very healthy state with plenty of outdoor activities and top-notch health-care facilities.
Ken Kupchick, director of the marketing and development for the River Valley Food Bank in Fort Smith, said free produce sampling at grocery stores for children is trending across the United States as an effort to encourage better eating habits. However, he was unaware Harps was doing this when he brought it up at a nutrition committee meeting Roberts attended.
“It’s not just a trending story on the Internet, but it’s happening here at home, too,” Kupchick said.
Harps and the regional food bank have worked together in the past. They put on a Cooking Matters at the Store healthy eating program at the Harps on Grand Avenue in Fort Smith. Grant funding is needed to put on another episode of that program. Kupchick said organizers are seeking $2,000 to hold a class for 200 people. The money is used for gift certificates to give participants after going through several stations such to learn how to shop smarter and eat better.
Kupchick pointed out that Sebastian County has over 32,600 people eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits,formerly known as food stamps, and 12,600 of them are not using it. The average SNAP benefit plan is $112 a month, Kupchick said.