SHASTA LAKE – A new initiative hopes to lead Shasta Lake residents to make healthier choices, given alarming rates of obesity and unhealthy behaviors in Shasta County.
Shop Healthy Shasta Lake is a local effort that has partnered with a statewide campaign, Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community, to educate people about nutrition, alcohol prevention and tobacco prevention in the hope they make better choices.
To do so, members of Healthy Shasta will present cooking classes and tastings at the Farmers Sentry Supermarket in Shasta Lake, while the store will consider ways to help promote healthy foods and discourage bad behaviors.
“Instead of sugar or sodium or soft drinks, I’ll have a piece of fruit,” said Allen Mancasola, co-owner of the grocery.
And much of Shasta County doesn’t make healthy choices – nearly 60 percent of its residents are overweight or obese, according to Healthy Shasta.
A study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research says 20.6 percent of Shasta County’s population is classified as current smokers, compared to 13 percent of the state’s average.
And a study conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research estimates that 61 percent Shasta County’s population is either diabetic or prediabetic.
Karen Ambrecht, registered dietitian and public health nutritionist with Shasta County Public Health Department, said those numbers are alarming, and has encouraged Healthy Shasta to increase outreach with the public to provide healthy cooking demonstrations and education about foods and sugary drinks.
In addition, Sentry is considering whether to put healthy snacks at one of the checkout lanes in lieu of candy, Mancasola said. He said he has seen signs people want to know more about healthy living.
He’s noticed a 30 percent increase in sales of “natural, organic” products, as well as more requests for such items, year over year. Soft drink sales have fallen dramatically.
“Even within beverages, we have alternative items that have a lot less sugar content,” he said. Bottled water has become a “huge” part of beverage sales as well.
He said the cooking class in March was well-attended. Healthy Shasta members showed how to make a healthy meal out of tortillas and vegetables.
About 50 people also participated in a survey during the class, Mancasola said.
The community survey, which is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LYPCW55, asks people where they shop for groceries. It also asks how prices and produce quality at food stores in Shasta Lake compare with other cities. The survey also asks how far grocery stores are from their homes and what healthy food items people would like to see at the Shasta Lake stores.
That’s where some of the answers got interesting, Duckett said. The people who participated in the survey were asking for healthier “grab and go” options and help from grocers to identify healthier foods, she said.
That help should include easy recipes, cooking classes and food sampling, all of which break down concerns that keep many people from healthy living – that such a lifestyle is difficult, onerous or unpleasant, said Erin Bianchi, a registered dietitian with St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Red Bluff.
She said she tries to match clients with simple, healthy meals, which she described as unprocessed meals prepared at home.
“Certain foods can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t ever prepared them,” she said. “As soon as it’s something doable … it’s much more effective.”
But she cautioned that weight gain, and its root cause, as well as weight loss are complex issues affected by many factors outside the grocery store. Healthy Shasta’s activities can go only so far in addressing them. Also, exercise is a key part of healthy living, she said.
Also, junk and processed meals are cheaper and more convenient, hindering such efforts, she said. Nonetheless, she added, “every little bit counts.”
Sentry shouldn’t “dictate” what people can eat by offering only the healthy options, Mancasola said. He prefers the education route to show people that money isn’t everything.
“I think what you have to ask is what is the price of your health,” he said.
Along with promoting healthier foods, Healthy Shasta will try to discourage bad habits such as tobacco use.
According to Jessica Duckett, project coordinator for the Tobacco Education Program for Shasta County Public Health, tobacco use in Shasta County is higher than the California average.
Duckett said they have been working with grocers to decrease access to flavored and electronic cigarettes to adult teenagers and identify unhealthy advertising and bring it to the attention of store owners. She said by doing so, it “decreases unhealthy behavior by increasing access to healthy options.”
“E-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking,” Duckett said. Kids are more likely to vape electronic cigarettes because of the appeal of the flavor, she said.
The manager of the Sunshine Market, Sunny Singh, the other grocer in town, said he had not yet heard anything about the initiative.