One morning, when I was reporting from Kettleman City, I took the video below.
Actually, the video was an accident, but the short clip and audio thoroughly depict the lack of healthy food options near the unincorporated Kings County community.
A recent health policy brief published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research analyzed the retail food environments in counties across the state, and found that many of them might look like this stretch of Highway 41.
According to the report, about 75 percent of California teens live and go to school in less health food environments, where fast food restaurants, convenience stores, liquor stores, dollars stores and pharmacies outnumber grocery stores, warehouse stores and produce vendors.
In fact, the food environments in the Valley are some of the worst in the state.
For example, in Stanislaus County, there are more than 9 times as many fast food restaurants, convenience stores, liquor stores, and dollars stores, as there are grocery stores and produce vendors. In Tulare County, there are 8.6 times more unhealthy food retail options than healthy options; in Fresno, there are 8 times more unhealthy retail options than healthy ones.
This oversaturation of unhealthy food options has created a predictable situation: According to the report, soda consumption is highest among teens with the least healthy food environments near their homes and schools. Teens who live amidst the most unhealthy food options also have the highest fast food consumption.
And consumption of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages, and fast food, is linked to greater caloric intake. Eating and drinking these sugary sodas and fast food may have contributed to the rise in obesity rates, according to the report.
What sorts of solutions are available for communities like Kettleman City, pictured at the top of this page, or Pixley, in Tulare County, picture in the center?
The report recommends increasing the presence of farmer’s markets, food cooperatives, and community gardens; encouraging the development of farm-to-institution programs; developing and providing incentives to attract grocery stores and improve foods available in existing stores; and consider zoning and land use policies that improve food environments near schools and in underserved communities.
These changes are necessary to ensure our communities don’t remain “food swamps,” where there is so much food around, but nothing healthy or nourishing to eat.
Obesity, previously on Harvesting Health:
- A problem: Soda tax fizzles, unhealthy food environments persist
- A solution: A recipe to end childhood obesity