Why does it matter?
It is often portrayed that the food a person chooses to eat is completely self-governed, but that is not in fact the case. A person’s food choices are defined by the environment they live in, and food environments are not created equal. Fresh food, which is typically healthier, is more likely to be at a higher price point than processed food. Additionally, people who are working multiple jobs or who are otherwise time constrained are more likely to grab the quick and easy foods that may be less nutritious than buying the ingredients that are needed to prepare a whole meal.
Where are we now?
The food environment index is a scale that weighs two factors: a neighborhood’s average income and low access to grocery stores, and food insecurity rate in that same community. Looking at combined data for Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, we find that there has been little change since 2015. With 0 being the worst and 10 being the best, we sit at 7.3, indicating that while most of our community has the resources to access healthy foods, it’s not all. In 2019, 14.75 percent of our community was food insecure, meaning they did not have consistent access to the amount of food they need. Even more concerning, 20.45 percent of our children are food insecure.
How do we measure it?
Food environment measures the access and ease of access to obtaining food in the area. The food environment index is a scale that weighs two factors: a neighborhood’s average income and low access to grocery stores, and food insecurity rate in that same community
- Food insecurity rates: “Food Insecurity Rate,” Florida Department of Health, Health Charts 2021, Database accessed via https://flhealthcharts.com.
- Child Food insecurity rates: “Child Food Insecurity Rate,” Florida Department of Health, Florida Health Charts 2021, Database accessed via https://flhealthcharts.com.
- Food environment Index: “Florida County Health Rankings,” Health Rankings, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps 2021, Database retrieved from: https://www.countyhealthrankings.org.
- WIC eligibles served: “WIC Eligibles Served,” Florida Department of Health, Florida Health Charts 2021, Database accessed via https://www.flhealthcharts.com.
- SNAP Rate: “ACS Table S2201,” U.S. Census Bureau, 2015-2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, 2020, Datasheet retrieved from https://data.census.gov.
What call to action is linked to this indicator?
Income inequality and food deserts are leaving children hungry. Our obesity problem is partially fed by a system that does not allow people to easily make healthy choices. One of our number one tools to counter this is making sure food assistance programs such as WIC and SNAP are accessible and easy to navigate. Additionally, work is needed to ensure government officials are working to equally distribute grocery stores throughout our community rather than concentrated into certain areas of town.
These grocery stores need to be regulated to offer healthy and affordable food choices for the neighborhoods they serve. Supporting households living in food deserts to advocate for healthier food choices in their neighborhoods should be a goal of organizations working alongside households to solve structural barriers to health and well-being.