Kingsbridge and Marble Hill: a mixed bag for access to healthy food.

Stephen Quinones, 42, a city housing employee at the Marble Hill housing project in Kingsbridge had a few opinions about the food selection in his neighborhood.

Munching on a bag of Peanut M&Ms, he pointed to the tightly packed array of food establishments along the stretch of Broadway near the project where he lives.

“They’re missing a couple of main stores: a KFC, a couple of Spanish joints,” he said. “I get tired of Mcdonald’s, Subway, the deli and Chinese food.”

Although the South Bronx is home to some of the city’s worst obesity rates, Kingsbridge and the Marble Hill neighborhoods to the north aren’t exactly an oasis of health either. The Bronx as a whole had higher obesity rates for every age group than in New York City overall, according to a May 2007 New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report, “Obesity in the South Bronx: a look across generations.”

The study found 13 percent of high school students in the Bronx were obese, compared to 12 percent in New York City overall. For 18-44 year olds, 22 percent were obese in the Bronx compared to 18 percent in the city. For 45-64-year-olds, 32 percent were obese in the Bronx compared to 26 percent in the rest of the city.

So why the discrepancy? Ruchi Mathur, program associate at Bronx Health REACH, a community health coalition, said there are several factors, including access to healthy foods and most importantly, apathy.

“From our point of view, a lot of people tend to accept what they’ve been given,” she said. “A big issue is access, but I think a bigger issue is powerlessness.”

Tony Rivera, a 51-year-old cook who lives in Marble Hill, reflects the attitude Mathur described.

“It don’t even make no sense to complain,” he said when asked if he had any problems with the grocery stores in his neighborhood.

Rivera, who said he most frequently eats out at the Applebee’s across the street from the Marble Hill project, had no problem with the food selection in the area.

Of 10 on-the-street interviews along Broadway and Bailey Avenue in Kingsbridge and Marble Hill, only a single individual expressed a forceful complaint. Abraham Bari, a 77-year-old manager of a real estate company, pays almost $2 more for his favorite soy yogurt at the local grocers in Kingsbridge than if he made the trip to Fairway in Manhattan.

“I don’t shop here,” he said. “But If I go once, amazingly the prices are higher here.”

Marble Hill and Kingsbridge lie on the border between a poorer neighborhood with less access to healthy foods like fruit and vegetables and a more affluent set of communities like Kingsbridge and Riverdale that have better options.

Quinones pointed across the street to C-Town, where he shops for food. “The further down [up Broadway] you go, the more expensive they get,” he said.

C-Town has weekly coupons on their Web site. This week’s coupons are for cookies, frosting, cake mix and whipped cream.

Up Broadway into Kingsbridge, C-Town gives way to higher-end markets like Garden Gourmet and Stop & Shop. The coupons this week for Stop & Shop include watermelon, red peppers, Campbell’s Select soups and Kashi Pizza.

Provi Monchek, a 55-year-old Riverdale resident loaded her groceries from Stop & Shop into the back of her car. She said she was very satisfied with grocery stores in her neighborhood. “I wish they had a Trader Joe’s, though,” she added.

Monchek, said she frequents Japanese restaurants in Riverdale and purchases “only organic milk” at Stop & Shop, a significant difference in food habits from her neighbors like Quinones and Rivera down in Marble Hill.

Mathur sees hope for those who are unaware of the unhealthy lifestyles they are practicing. “I think we need to invest in the community and empower the people to demand for better,” she said.

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