Bad-diet issues for low-income
Pierce County is one of the worst places in the state for healthy diets among certain segments of the population, according to health authorities.
The recently released 2013 County Health Rankings place Pierce in the bottom third among counties statewide – 27th out of 39 – in the physical environment category that includes access to healthy food among low-income residents.
Factors that contributed to the low score include:
• Morbidity – poor physical health and poor mental health.
• Physical environment, such as limited access to recreational facilities and healthy food, the percentag of restaurants that are fast-food establishments, and air quality).
The rankings “demonstrate why efforts such as our Community Transformation Partnership (CTP) are so critical to improving the health of our county,” said Frank DiBiase, assistant division director of Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s Environmental Health Division.
DiBiase said CTP “aims to break down barriers to better health by making improvements to where we live, learn, work and play.”
He added that there is “critical work to do” in order to improve access to healthy food, recreation and housing. That work “can help prevent health problems related to obesity and chronic disease,” he said.
Pierce County has worse access to healthy foods among low-income residents compared to the statewide average. According to the County Health Rankings, 8 percent of low-income adults in Pierce County have limited access to healthy food, compared to 5 percent overall in Washington.
Limited access to healthy food measures the proportion of the population who are living in poverty and don’t live close to a grocery store. The latter is defined as less than one mile.
Adult obesity continues to climb in Pierce County and is worse than the state average, officials noted. The rankings show that 31 percent of Pierce County adults are obese, while the statewide average is 27 percent.
The county has been near the bottom third of the rankings since the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation first began compiling them in 2010. Because of these and other countywide health challenges, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded nearly $800,000 per year for up to five years to the county’s Health Department for the CTP campaign. The grant program is in its second year.
Over the past year, the CTP has worked with organizations and businesses, including MultiCare Health System, which operates hospitals and health clinics throughout Pierce County.
In working with with the community to promote healthy lifestyle choices, officials said, the Health Department emphasizes that:
• Healthy food is especially important for pregnant women, babies and older children. The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program has locations throughout Pierce County and is enrolling new clients. WIC provides checks for healthy foods, and offers health screenings, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and more. It’s easy to sign up and new clients can receive a check the same day. Women and children receive checks for nutritious foods like milk, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, cereal, juice, whole grains (bread, tortillas, rice), eggs, and peanut butter or beans, infant food and infant cereal and iron-fortified formula. For more information on Maternal Child Health and to find a WIC site near you, go to www.tpchd.org/maternalchildhealth.
• Healthy students are better learners and have fewer school absences. From working with school nutrition directors on healthier menus to providing funding and technical assistance as part of our Healthy Schools Grant Program, the Health Department partners with Pierce County schools and districts to increase students’ access to healthy foods. Interested in making your child’s school healthier? Ask the school administration to consider implementing a healthy celebration policy. Imagine students being rewarded with an extra recess instead of a pizza party. Learn more at www.tpchd.org/healthyschools. Oral health is another critical aspect of learning readiness, as oral health issues can contribute to school absences. Learn more at www.tpchd.org/oralhealth.
• The Health Department is partnering with employers who want to give their staff access to healthier choices during the workday. Whether it’s serving nutritious foods at meetings or adding healthier options to vending machines, a healthier workplace leads to happier, more productive employees. To learn more or request a worksite wellness assessment at your organization, visit www.tpchd.org/worksitewellness.
• The CTP is a coalition of five community organizations, the Health Department, and local leaders working to make Pierce County a healthier community. In January 2012, CTP partner YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap County established healthy food policies so youth and adults who play hard at the YMCA can refuel with healthy snacks. Learn more about the Partnership’s work and how you can get involved at www.tpchd.org/communitytransformation.
Access to the YMCA and other recreational outlets is also an important challenge, officials said. According to the County Health Rankings, which were released March 20, Pierce County has worse access to recreational facilities compared to the statewide average. Eight per 100,000 residents have access compared to 11 per 100,000 residents statewide.