Like many US cities, the east-coast city has struggled with high rates of obesity and diabetes. According to health department commissioner Tom Farley, one in eight Philadelphians have diabetes – and those rates tick up for black and Hispanic populations. The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the city.
“We can’t let diabetes overtake the next generation,” he said at a news conference this week.
No parent wants their child to be obese or diabetic, he continued, but “every parent wants their child to be healthy. This campaign is about helping parents to do that.”
The department has set up a new website that features advice on eating healthy on a budget, the importance of exercising and information about the risks of high-sugar snacks. It also recommends substituting hard-boiled eggs, nuts, oatmeal or cereal for easy-to-grab sweet goods like donuts.
Philadelphia's 1.5m residents make it one of the five most populous US cities. Of the country's 10 largest cities, three of them are in California and three in Texas.
In one educational video on the site, Jennifer Aquilante, a registered dietician and nutritionist for the city, walks viewers through a corner store. She said whole grains are easier to find in convenience stores than one might think, pointing to cereals like Cheerios or Raisin Bran.
Consumers can also find healthy snacks in those retail channels, she added, such as unsalted or lightly salted nuts.
Another video part of the campaign’s ‘I Call the Snacks’ focus – features a father explaining the importance of always having fresh bananas and apples in the house for his son.
An effective soda tax?
Philadelphia drew the ire of the beverage industry when it adopted the sweetened beverage tax in 2017, which added $0.015 per ounce of soda, including diet, plus juice, tea, or sport drinks. A typical two-liter bottle of soda that cost $1.50, for instance, incurred a $1 tax.
A recent study by the American Medical Association (AMA) found that sales volume of sweetened beverages affected by the tax fell by 1.3bn ounces – a whopping 51% drop. Bordering towns, however, watched their sales jump by 308m.
That increase offset the decline within city limits by about a quarter, according to AMA.
Are healthy snacks hard to find?
About 20% of Philadelphia’s children are considered obese, according to the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, which recognized the city in 2016 for its efforts to curb childhood obesity.
Yet the city still struggles with food access and affordability, according to its community health report. Many neighborhoods lack full-service grocery stores, leading residents – especially in low-income areas – to rely on corner stores and fast-food chains.
To overcome this reality, the city has teamed up with the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Get Healthy Philly, an organization that, since 2010, has assisted retailers in promoting healthy food sales to young residents.
The health department hopes its educational campaign will sit better with residents than its notorious sweetened beverage tax.