Access to foods that support healthy eating patterns contribute to an individual’s health throughout their lifespan. Healthy eating habits include controlling calories, eating according to the dietary guidelines set by the USDA (such as following MyPlate recommendations), and reducing intake of sugar, salt, saturated and trans fats. Healthy eating helps to reduce the incidence and onset of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Research has shown that access to healthy foods — one of many possible social determinants of health — is correlated with healthy dietary habits and may thus reduce chronic disease risk. Social determinants of health are aspects of the environments in which we are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that may positively or negatively impact our health. There are many barriers in our community that make it difficult to engage in healthy eating patterns. These community barriers include the following:
• Inability to Access Food Stores
The cost of transportation and distance to sources of healthy foods impact low-income families, mostly appearing to be older adults.
• Pike County households without a vehicle — 10.3%.
• Pike County residents 65 years old and over without a vehicle — 26.5%.
• Affordability of Healthy Foods
Most research shows that low-income groups tend to rely on foods that are cheap and low in nutritional quality. The options for convenience store foods are of lower nutritional quality compared to a wide variety of healthy options offered at larger chain grocery stores.
Fruits and vegetables are often more expensive and are offered at convenience stores for a higher price, rather than fruits and vegetables purchased at a larger chain grocery store.
B. Food Access:
• Pike County residents that are food insecure — 17.9%
• Pike County children that are food insecure — 29.8%
C. Household Income:
• Pike County household income less than $24,999 — 32.8%.
• Pike County poverty status of families at or above 200% — 60.1%
• Poor Food Environment & Negative Health Outcomes
Residents of neighborhoods with abundant fast food restaurants and fewer sources of fresh produce are at higher risk of obesity. Lower rates of obesity and diabetes are associated with greater access to healthier foods.
D. Residents Top Health Challenges:
• Pike County residents report high blood pressure — 32.9%
• Pike County residents report obesity — 29.1%
Currently in southeast Ohio, a project is underway to understand and compare the sustainability and potential individual, household, and community level outcomes of two different rural, community-based healthy food access programs. The study, led by Dr. Jennifer Garner, Assistant Professor of Food and Nutrition Policy at The Ohio State University, is titled “Improving Local, Healthy Food Access and Food Insecurity in Appalachia: A Comparative Evaluation.” The research team will be comparing The Donation Station, a program ran by Community Food Initiatives, and Country Fresh Stops, a program ran by Rural Action, in Athens County, Ohio. This project will provide information on the relative impacts of these programs, one of which provides fresh produce to consumers via local pantries and the other of which improves produce availability at local markets, and will explore ways in which programming could be improved to bolster potential impacts and program longevity. The ultimate aim of such research is to support the development of a sustainable local food system, greater community-wide food security, and contribute to reduction in diet and health disparities between lower- and higher-income individuals. Outcomes from this study will provide Pike County with beneficial data on what we can do to reduce food access disparities in our own county in the future. Community members can access more information on this project by going to https://discovery.osu.edu/jennifer-garner-linkage-and-leverage-story
Healthy food access is an important social determinant of health within our community. Improving access to food and supporting healthy eating patterns can reduce health disparities and improve population health. As additional evidence-based practices for promoting healthy food access and consumption continue to emerge and be implemented, so will we progress on improving our social determinants of health, our quality of life, and our community food disparities.
JG Linkage and Leverage: Discovery Themes, The Ohio State University. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2019, from https://discovery.osu.edu/jg-linkage-and-leverage
Social Determinants of Health. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2019, from https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-of-health
Access to Foods that Support Healthy Eating Patterns. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2019, from https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-health/interventions-resources/access-to-foods-that