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County program puts healthy food in low-income neighborhoods

Mecklenburg County commissioners want to name a portion of Little Sugar Creek Greenway through Freedom Park for former county commissioner Ruth Samuelson.
Mecklenburg County commissioners want to name a portion of Little Sugar Creek Greenway through Freedom Park for former county commissioner Ruth Samuelson. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Mecklenburg County is working with corner stores in low-income neighborhoods to offer fresh, healthy food in places where it can be hard to find.

An estimated 90,000 county residents have few food options because no grocery stores are in their communities. Small neighborhood stores tend to sell convenience foods loaded with fat and sodium.

The county’s Healthy Corner Store initiative is working with 10 local stores to stock fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and nutritious snacks, Dr. Marcus Plescia, the county health director, told county commissioners Tuesday night.

A recent county survey found that people who live in areas with low incomes and educational attainment are more likely to be overweight, sedentary and suffer from high blood pressure and cholesterol.

The county interviewed 1,000 residents in census tracts where 30 percent or more people live in poverty, at least 25 percent didn’t finish high school, or both. Those areas are scattered east, west and north of uptown.

The researchers found striking health disparities with people from other parts of the county.

People in low-income areas are more than twice as likely to have heart disease, three times likelier to have chronic lung disease and stand a 70 percent higher chance of having diabetes, the survey found. Death rates from those conditions were also higher.

Samuelson Trail

Commissioners proposed naming a one-mile stretch of Little Sugar Creek Greenway near uptown for Ruth Samuelson, a former county commissioner who championed funding and construction of the greenway.

Samuelson also developed relationships with landowners and developers, paving the way for acquisition of the tracts needed to restore the degraded creek, which was once covered by a parking lot, and build the planned 19-mile greenway.

“It was a very difficult and challenging process,” said District 4 commissioner Dumont Clarke, who joined the board with Samuelson in 2000. “She worked her head off, along with a lot of other people.”

Samuelson, who went on to become a top Republican leader in the state legislature, disclosed in June that she has ovarian cancer. She’s receiving treatment.

The reach of the greenway running beside Freedom Park, from East Boulevard to Princeton Avenue, would be renamed the Ruth Samuelson Trail. The creek was a childhood playground for Samuelson, who is known for her commitment to environmental causes.

Final action is expected following a Dec. 20 public hearing.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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