Access to healthy food can be challenging in any environment, but particularly difficult for families with young children, teen residents and seniors living in high poverty areas of Connecticut. Many urban neighborhoods meet the definition of a food desert: low-income areas without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Canned and processed foods available at small convenience stores are often heavily loaded with sodium and added sugar, not the nutrients that promote heart health.
AHA addresses nutrition issues by promoting increased access to healthy foods and beverages. One way this is being done is through a nationwide project known as ANCHOR: Accelerating National Community Health Outcomes through Reinforcing Partnerships. This effort is one of 15 projects nationwide aimed at improving community health. Sharon Mierzwa is AHA’s ANCHOR program regional campaign manager working on policy and environmental changes in Hartford and New Haven. Sharon lives in Hartford and has raised three children there while working with public health programs that prevent obesity, chronic disease and health disparities. She is a registered dietitian, public health program planner and evaluator, licensed massage therapist, and active community member serving on non-profit state and local organization boards and faith-based councils. Her first year anniversary working with AHA will be this June; you might meet her volunteering at the Hartford and New Haven Heart Walk and the Little Heart Heroes events. Her youngest son is an urban planner in Ventura County, California. Her daughter is an infectious disease doctor at Hartford Hospital, and her oldest son is an Air Force Major assisting homeless veterans to secure housing in the Denver area.
Sharon works closely with food policy council members, food system directors, and existing coalitions to make foods like fresh fruits and vegetables more available through farmers markets, community gardens and food assistance programs. Cafeterias and vending machine items are assessed in worksites and public facilities to see how food and beverage offerings could be improved health-wise. Together with community partners we are increasing awareness of healthy options to make the healthy choice the easy choice through system changes. Join us!