Why Transforming First Food Deserts to First Food Friendly Communities Matters

By Kimberly Seals Allers

In 2006, Mari Gallagher used the concept of a “food desert” to transform how we think about food access. Gallagher’s work studying access to supermarkets in Detroit and the health implications thereof, sparked the slow ascent of the term “food desert” into the American vernacular.  In 2012, the First Lady has made elimination of food deserts an anchor element of her broader “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity.

And while the term “desert” has come under some criticism since a desert is in fact a thriving ecosystem, we use the term in recognition of the severe sense of “lack” present in these communities.  A desert lacks rain, and has extremely limited vegetation and food options.  We use the term in acknowledgement that in first food deserts, infants are limited, at times stunted, and facing systemic barriers to their fullest potential.  Furthermore, we use the term most significantly in its verb form as in “to abandon; to withdraw from without intent to return,” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. In this understanding of the word, we see an important dimension, heretofore missing from the breastfeeding conversation.  That is, for a woman to successfully breastfeed we must also and perhaps first, address the systemic failures and the “lack” in her community.

Our initial exploration of key cities in states with low breastfeeding rates, specifically Birmingham, Alabama, Jackson, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana, uncovered consistent similarities in uneven opportunities, risks, resources, and community sentiment, which can be viewed as key identifying factors in communities with low breastfeeding rates.  This work, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, makes a significant contribution to the breastfeeding landscape by demonstrating that where you live makes a considerable difference in your likelihood to breastfeed and your likelihood and ability to continue breastfeeding. This is noteworthy, because previous efforts at increasing breastfeeding rates particularly among low-income and African American women, have primarily focused on messaging. That is, “what” is being said to these women, with little understanding of their community environment, and minimal consideration to the “where” and the impact of “place” as a determinant of breastfeeding success. This focus on messaging has had some success in increasing initiation rates but negligible success at increasing duration—which is where the preventative medicine of breast milk really take hold.

The findings of this exploratory pilot project suggest that there are common defining elements in first food deserts, some concrete some nuanced, all of which show that communities where breastfeeding is stunted, have patterns and commonalities. By addressing, acknowledging and naming these “deserts” we can better address the infant health and wellness challenges also common in these communities.  By clarifying the “lacks” in these neighborhoods, we can better fill in the gaps.

New Community Lactation Station Opens in Brooklyn, NYC; Hosts ‘Know Your Rights’ Workshops

Photo credit: The Brooklyn Reader http://www.bkreader.com/tag/community-lactation-station/

New York City Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr.unveiled his new constituent services office in Bedford-Stuyvestant, Brooklyn which includes a new Community Lactation Station for breastfeeding moms. The constituent services offices, located in Restoration Plaza,  provides help with education, housing, landlord/tenant, and quality of life issues for the residents of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. And now moms have a local place to nurse their babies while on the go and working moms in the area have an easily accessible pumping location.

 Council Member Cornegy, a father of six school aged children, is a staunch supporter of the Pregnant Worker Protection Act and the New York City Health Department’s Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone (BFEZ) Project, which services Bedford-Stuyvesant. Breastfeeding reduces a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Breastfeeding also reduces an infant’s risk of ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, and asthma, and promotes maternal bonding and optimal growth and development.
The Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone, funded in part by the WK Kellogg Foundation, is a community-based initiative to support moms in Bedford Stuyvesant and Brownsville who are interested in breastfeeding. This will be done by providing in-home breastfeeding support and counseling to new mothers and providing education and support to new fathers. The Health Department will also work with local businesses and faith- and community-based organizations to establish spaces where women can breastfeed.
As a part of a multifaceted strategy to promote breastfeeding, the Health Department also partners with maternity hospitals and birthing centers, runs a text messaging campaign called Mobile Milk, and offers two home visiting programs, the Newborn Home Visiting Program and Nurse-Family Partnership, to educate and support breastfeeding mothers before and after delivery. It also produces a number of breastfeeding educational materials that are available through 311. For more information, visit nyc.gov/health and search for “breastfeeding.”
In partnership with the Health Department, the new District Office will be hosting a series of Know Your Rights workshops to educate employers, employees and community residents about breastfeeding. Workshops for employees will be held on Wednesday, March 19th and Wednesday, April 9th from 8 to 10 a.m. Workshops for employees and community residents will be held on Wednesday, March 26 and Wednesday, April 23 from noon to 2:00 p.m.
 Going forward, regular hours for the district office will be 9:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with evening hours each Thursday until 8:00 p.m. and Saturday hours the first weekend of every month from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m..

Every Child. Every Mother. Every One of Us: Recap of The First Food Forum

This month, over 150 advocates, researchers, policy makers, medical practitioners gathered in San Antonio, Texas for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s First Food Forum. The goal: to make sure every infant has equitable access to the most healthful first food–breast milk. Attendees shared best practices, reviewed emerging research, reinforced personal connections and took a monster Selfie of Oscar-worthy proportions.

Check out the recap of the First Food Forum here (Selfie included!):

Watch all the powerful speaker videos here:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXjR388C7yiBnXMtgYuDQL4nUWxkDiMh-

Like PowerPoints? Check out all the conference materials here: http://conferences.wkkf.org/firstfoodforum/

More of a picture person? Have a look at the amazing photos at the WKKF Flickr page:

Here’s a preview:

Words of Wisdom: Early Childhood Success Needs a Life Course Perspective

To create communities that are truly first food friendly, we need a life course perspective.
“We (at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation) have a deep understanding of children from a life course perspective. We know how important the life experiences of parents are in shaping the experience of a child. We also understand the impact of childhood adversity that results from the circumstances and conditions in a child’s life. There are toxins, in society and in a child’s physical environment, that can have a negative cumulative effect. We do all we can to mitigate that.

“One example is our emphasis on breastfeeding–what we call ‘first food.’ We know that the human need for social interaction is as fundamental as our need for food, air and water. Neurologically, we are wired for socialization. So the precious time that a mother spends nursing her child not only feeds the body, but the heart and soul. It begins with a pattern of interaction that will make the child healthier and more resilient.”

–Gail Christopher, vice president, program strategy at WKKF (excerpt from the WKKF 2013 Annual Report: Understanding Vulnerable Children: Who Knows What About Early Childhood?)

Health Insurers Graded on Breastfeeding Support. Aetna & Anthem Score Highly

Breastfeeding mothers need health insurers to cover important support mechanisms such as lactation consultants and any needed pumping equipment. The National Breastfeeding Center assessed key insurance providers and their coverage for the supports breastfeeding moms need.

Read the full article and access the scorecard report here. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/9/prweb11098135.htm

Workplaces Matter: Texas Recognizes “Mother Friendly” Worksites

The City of Edinburg was recently recognized as a Mother Friendly Worksite by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

Edinburg is one of only three cities in Texas to have implemented a policy to accommodate an employee’s breastfeeding-related needs and provide access to facilities, flexible schedules, and equipment assistance.

Both the Texas and Federal law state a mother is entitled to breastfeed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be.

The Federal law goes on to say that mothers are entitled to a reasonable amount of break time and a space to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother, for up to one year following the birth of the employee’s child.

The City of Edinburg and all city buildings are now designated as Mother Friendly Worksites. Irma Garza, public information director said under the new policy employees will be allowed time necessary to pump the milk. They will also supply whatever equipment is needed.

An employer may be designated as a Texas Mother-Friendly Worksite if they offer a written employee worksite lactation support policy that offers:

Flexible work schedules including scheduling breaks and work patterns to provide time for expression of milk.

Access to a private location(s) that is not a bathroom, for the purpose of milk expression.

Access to a nearby clean and safe water source and a sink for washing hands and rinsing out any breast pump equipment.

Access to hygienic storage options for mothers to safely store breast-milk.

The City of Edinburg recognizes that breast feeding is not only good for babies but it is also good for business. According to DSHS, mother friendly worksites benefit from increased employee retention, lower absenteeism, higher morale, greater productivity and reduced health care costs.

The other two cities designated as mother friendly worksites are San Antonio and Austin.


Airports Matter: New Pod-Like Lactation Station

When we say communities need to be first food friendly, that means all key locations should have support in place for moms who want to nurse or pump their milk for their baby. This is particularly key for working moms who may have to return to a busy work and travel schedule while still providing their infant with the best first food possible.

Check out this feature from the New York Times on a new pod-like lactation station by Mamava for private nursing and pumping coming to the Burlington, Vermont airport and hopefully many more soon.