BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer email@example.com
Four low-income communities in Kern County canvassed by a recent survey were found to have little access to healthy food and produce.
The survey, conducted by the Kern County Public Health Services Department, looked at the availability of healthy food in Oildale, Cottonwood, Shafter and Arvin. In Arvin, it has already affected updates to a plan for the future direction of the city.
"We're on the cusp, the tipping point, of how we look at the environment, so that we really take a look and say, 'Well, why is there that unhealthy food or why is that unhealthy food being marketed instead of healthy food?'" said Alyssa Ghirardelli, a research scientist with the Network for a Healthy California.
The survey was Kern's participation in the statewide Communities of Excellence in Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention project that supports healthy eating habits in low-income neighborhoods. It was funded by grants from the Network for a Healthy California, the state organization that runs Communities of Excellence, and The California Endowment, a private health foundation.
Volunteer high school students in each community helped conduct the survey. Nataly Taredes and Melieni Cuevas, both 15 and from Arvin, volunteered because they said they are worried about the rate of obesity in the country. While conducting the survey, they found many stores without much produce or with low-quality produce, poor advertising for the healthy food and lots of junk food.
"That's why a lot of kids are becoming obese," Taredes said.
The survey teams spent six to 10 hours a day going to supermarkets, independent grocery stores and fast food restaurants checking availability of health food, quality of produce and advertising of health products, said Nancy Nasrawin, who headed the project for the county.. From start to finish, surveying the four communities took from April to June.
The results, which Nasrawin got Tuesday, showed large sections of what she described as "food deserts." That means there's little access to supermarkets or grocery stores, that those stores do not carry much healthy food or produce or that the fast-food restaurants do not offer options like salad, greenery or low-fat foods.
For example, Cottonwood did not have a supermarket anywhere within a two-mile radius, Nasrawin said. And only two of 51 stores in all four communities met at least 75 percent of standards created by the Network for a Healthy California to define a healthy store.
The standards include whether the stores offer fresh produce, the quantity and quality of produce and healthy marketing practices, among other criteria.
The results got their first showing at Tuesday night's Arvin Planning Commission meeting. At the meeting, the commission adopted updates to the city's general plan. Work began on the updates in September. The findings from the survey were used to reinforce an addition about community health that was drafted independently from the survey, said Avtar Nijjer-Sinhu, senior health educator for Kern County's Environmental Health Division.
Arvin residents had been saying that a tract of underdeveloped land would be perfect for healthy retail and grocery stores, Nijjer-Sidhu said. The data from the survey further justified that idea, she said.
"We're finding that the Central Valley grows the produce, but it's hard to keep it here," she said.
The next step is to present the findings to each community. Four meetings are scheduled in September in each community to explain the survey and get public input on how to help get better access to healthier food. The meetings are:
* Oildale: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, at Bryce C. Rathbun Branch of Kern County Library, 200 China Grade Loop
* Cottonwood: 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17, at Friendship House Community Center, 2424 Cottonwood Road
* Arvin: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, at Suite Y, 141 A St.
* Shafter: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at Shafter Youth Center, 455 E. Euclid Ave.