These days, many health insurances companies look more like a community health agency than a benefits provider. Members can find free bike helmets and car seats; access Body Mass Index (BMI) calculators; find active events and join workout clubs. And for managed care plans like BMC HealthNet Plan, which offers healthcare coverage to low-income families, such programs can serve as a cost-effective way to attract more uninsured in the state. BMC HealthNet Plan employs a team of workers whose role is to educate individuals about affordable health coverage, while also providing health and wellness information. One of these workers is Andrea Munoz, a Hispanic outreach worker who promotes healthier food choices through cooking demonstrations, taste tests, farmer’s markets, community gardens, and fresh produce trucks. Munoz spoke with Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene about her role as a healthy food advocate for BMC HealthNet Plan.
“The term ‘food desert’ is often tossed around but to me it defines urban residents who don’t have easy access to a grocery store or a healthy, affordable place to buy basic staples, like lettuce, chicken breast, and bread. As I talk to some residents of Roxbury and other neighborhoods, it’s not just the availability and affordability of fresh and healthy food but also the cultural appropriateness of what they can buy nearby and also the time it takes to shop and prepare the food. This lack of access to fruits and vegetables perpetuates the obesity problem and leads to chronic and costly diseases like diabetes and heart disease. We want to empower the underserved people in our community and teach them to make smart choices for lifelong health and wellness. Many don’t even realize that a simple switch from white to brown rice or ice cream sundae to fruit parfait can make a difference. I was at the Boys and Girls Club in Lynn, talking to kids there about how to make a fruit parfait – chop up a few strawberries and bananas; add granola and yogurt – and they were excited to try this new recipe. I know from my own experience that some low-income families tend to buy not just the cheaper, processed ingredients, but also things in boxes or bags that don’t require a lot of prep work. I grew up in a traditional Columbia family so I connect well with a lot of the Spanish culture. My family, at least, was stubborn and didn’t want to make a simple switch like baking, not frying, and replacing rice with more vegetables or understanding portion control. On that personal note, when I changed my own lifestyle, I went from weighing 210 pounds to 142; I always mention that story because it encourages for others and helps them make changes too. Sometimes the word “nutrition” is a vague concept to understand and it’s hard to connect the dots to really understand how eating well can lead to actual good health. So look for BMC HealthNet Plan as we partner with food pantries, community health centers, mobile markets and YMCAs and look for the free giveaways like fruit kabobs with Greek yogurt sauce. And by the way, when I go home tonight, I will have brown rice with grilled shrimp. Tasty but good for you.