A look into a healthier Berkeley with HOPS

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Karissa Ho/Staff

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“Policies are one of the tools used to foster a healthy campus environment and make the healthy choice the easy choice, along with programs, resources, and other strategies,” said Kim Guess in a 2021 Daily Californian article by Riley Cooke. “Without improving the food environment, health education alone often isn’t enough to lead to lasting change.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Berkeley passed the Healthy Checkout Ordinance, encouraging grocery stores to provide healthier alternatives to junk foods such as candy and soda, which often dominate checkouts. Snacks allowed on the checkout lanes must contain no more than 200 milligrams of sodium or 5 grams of added sugar per serving. 

A primary goal of the ordinance is to promote healthy eating choices, especially among youth who tend to have a higher risk of diabetes. In order to get a deeper perspective on students’ eating habits and how the ordinance can better support their long-term vision, Nefertiti (Nefer) Kelley-Farias, a public health and policy program coordinator at Bay Area Community Resources, sat down with two UC Berkeley student advocates, Kelly Lin and Sagrika Sethi.

For the past three years, Nefer has been working with young adults of Berkeley, including Kelly and Sagrika, to advocate for the creation of the Healthy Checkout Ordinance, which passed unanimously in October 2020. Kelly is a sophomore majoring in public health and working toward changing public policy in the Bay Area. Sagrika is a junior studying nutritional science and is passionate about researching methods to improve eating patterns amongst college students. They came together to discuss as a community how to improve upon healthy options that are accessible for everyone.

Nefer: Hi girls, thank you so much for being a part of this today. I’m so curious to learn about your snacking journey at Berkeley.

Kelly: Hi Nefer, thank you for having us. We’d love to share everything we’ve learned.

Nefer: To begin with, what are some snacks you typically crave or eat as a college student?

Kelly: I love making my own acai bowls! With the Healthy Checkout Ordinance in place, it is easier to find snacks that are low in sugar so I am not crashing midday.

Sagrika: I completely agree. Some of my favorite snacks are protein bars, almonds and fresh orange juice. At the end of the day, what matters is how you feel after consuming certain foods.

Nefer: Interesting. What are some snacks you would like markets around UC Berkeley to offer?

Sagrika: Personally, I would like markets around UC Berkeley to offer more foods rich in vitamins that can keep you more active throughout the day.

Kelly: Similar to what Sagrika said, offering rich foods along with almonds and pistachios would be a great way to improve snacking among UC Berkeley students.

Nefer: Absolutely. Most college students are not aware of what is in their foods. What do you personally struggle with terms of nutritional knowledge?

Kelly: I used to be stuck in an unhealthy cycle where I ate too little, thus causing me to overeat. I am now making sure that my meals are not only filling but nutritious too. My advocacy work toward Berkeley’s Healthy Checkout Ordinance helped me make better choices for snacking.

Sagrika: Right? In terms of nutritional knowledge, I struggle a lot with the nutritional value in certain foods — the number of carbs, protein, fat, etc. that should be ideal for one to consume, and most importantly why these should not be overlooked.

Nefer: As a mother and a Berkeley resident, I can say that junk food is undermining our community’s health. In that case, what is something you wish your fellow peers at UC Berkeley knew about snacking?

Kelly: I wish students would incorporate fresh fruits in their diet at least a few times a week, along with drinking water every day.

Sagrika: I want more students to know that snacking can literally make or break your eating patterns.

Nefer: I love that. So what are your favorite markets to visit around UC Berkeley to get these healthy foods?

Sagrika: My favorite market would be the Berkeley Student Food Collective. They always have almond bars for me to snack on after class.

Kelly: I enjoy visiting Mi Tierra Foods. They always have fresh fruits at their checkout lanes.

Nefer: Sugar crash is a big one. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to interview both of you and gain a better understanding of what is happening for college students. Together as a community, we can try our best toward improving nutritional awareness and ensuring young adults are getting access to healthy eating options.

The Bay Area Community Resources’ Healthy Options at Point of Sale, or HOPS, is a project designed to improve access to healthy foods for families across the Bay Area by focusing on using knowledge for empowerment. As health advocates and global citizens of the world, the HOPS team is determined to address nutritional inequity within the Berkeley community. 

We cannot continuously bat an eye toward the rise in health issues, as Berkeley families and children suffer from imbalanced diets of sugary processed food and overly-salted snacks. The Healthy Checkout Ordinance is a monumental stride toward the health and well-being of the future — and it is only the beginning.

Kelly Lin and Sagrika Sethi are UC Berkeley students who work in health policy and advocacy to increase knowledge of healthy eating, food justice and the role of the retail food environment. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.