The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is improving healthy eating and environments for Nebraska residents. The health department partnered with community organizations including Nebraska Extension and Local Health Departments across the state to educate communities about the benefits of healthy vending, cafeteria, and retail options. Six Local Health Departments across the state have been trained and have implemented a healthy vending, cafeteria, and retail initiative called Choose Healthy Here. Choose Healthy Here is a Healthy Food Retail Recognition Program that helps increase access and affordability to healthy food options to many Nebraskans, including SNAP participants. Choose Healthy Here originated as a Nebraska-based Healthy Food Retail program that supports rural communities needing to increase access to healthy foods by providing a framework for individuals to find, afford, choose, and use healthy foods. The program has since expanded into both cafeteria and vending environments. Many Nebraska communities struggle with access to healthy, affordable foods; negatively affecting public health and community economic opportunity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 52.5 million people in the U.S. have limited access to a supermarket. Corner stores, gas stations, or convenience stores may be nearby, but these options often lack fresh fruits, vegetables, and/or low-fat snack options. Residents are left with high-priced and high-processed foods; a situation that contributes to the obesity epidemic and other health disparities. Choose Healthy Here provides healthy environment education for both store owners and consumers. The program provides community outreach guidance, marketing signage, and promotion. Since 2016, Nebraska’s Choose Healthy Here program has helped to increase access to healthy food in 12 communities across the state including Scottsbluff, Chadron, Bridgeport, Friend, Hastings, Grand Island, Blair, Fremont, and Lincoln. Stores throughout Nebraska are successfully implementing healthy food retail programs by working with communities, store owners, and network partners to make small changes that help to increase the overall health within the communities.
Choose Healthy Here vending and cafeteria programs have been a supportive program to healthy food retail in Nebraska. Consistent messaging and branding across the communities have been important to attract consumers and to provide education. Through partnership with Nebraska Extension and Local Health Departments, The Choose Healthy Here vending and cafeteria program have worked towards increasing healthy food in worksites and throughout the community. Technical assistance is provided and includes assessing machines, identifying healthier products available through vendors, taste tests, surveys, plan-o-grams, and consistent checks for fidelity.