Food swamps trap the poor

May. 28, 2013 @ 03:04 PM

Too many county residents may be tangled in a food swamp dominated by fast foods that make them fat. 

For Jen Hames, county health education supervisor, that can explain obesity and other health problems in Davidson County.  In food deserts, people do not have access to healthy foods. 
“We see a lot of people going to fast food restaurants and many have few healthy food options,” Hames told county commissioners recently.
A weak economy has forced those with low incomes to cheaper fast foods, Hames said. State figures show obesity is a problem statewide with 66 percent of adults either overweight or obese.
Reversing obesity and nutrition trends are main goals formed from the 2012 Davidson County Health Assessment. The assessment found that more than 67 percent of county adults are overweight or obese. Also, 18 percent of adults eat the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
“Our concern is for a healthy workforce,” Hames said. “But we need to improve our rates on obesity, diabetes and the other factors.”
The assessment was a collaborative effort. The Davidson County Health Department, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Lexington Medical Center and Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center participated. Teams conducted door-to-door surveys along with a series of focus groups and health opinion surveys.
Obesity was voted the No. 1 issue. Obesity can contribute to heart disease, diabetes and other problems, Hames said. Reducing the number of people using tobacco and increasing community access to health care ranked as No. 2 and No. 3 goals. Obesity, tobacco and health care access relate to the county’s leading causes of death and disease.
Davidson County fared slightly better than peer counties on obesity. In Craven, Harnett, Johnston and Randolph counties closer to 70 percent fit into that category, according to averages in the assessment.
Health officials are forming work groups to address the problems. One goal is to decrease the amount of citizens overweight and obese to about 60 percent by 2020. On the positive side, the percentage of adults receiving the recommended amount of physical activity has increased slightly since 2005 to 46 percent.
About 30 percent of adults identify themselves as smokers. That’s about 10 percentage points higher than the peer county average and about 11 percentage points higher than the state average.
Also, about 14 percent of Davidson County residents were exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace in 2010, compared to 10 percent across peer counties and about 8 percent across the state.
“We are trying to figure out how this happened,” Hames said. “So many public places do not allow smoking.”
Davidson County has a shortage of primary care, mental health and dental providers. The county has about four primary care physicians per 10,000 people, which is about one physician less than peer counties and about five physicians less than the state average.
The average four-year suicide rate of 13 per 100,000 residents, higher than both the peer and state rates through 2010, is expected to increase, Hames said, because of the weak economy and lack of jobs.
“And we have less mental health services available,” Hames said.
The number of residents served in mental health programs has declined from 28 per 1,000 in 2005 to 24 in 2010. The state average is 40.
dnivens@hpe.com|888-3626

Davidson County Health

• More than 67 percent of Davidson County adults are overweight or obese, compared to 62 percent in Guilford County and 66 percent in Randolph County. The state average is 66 percent. 
• About 46 percent of county residents receive the recommended amount of exercise and physical activity per week.
• Less than one out of five adults eats five-plus servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
• Davidson County has four primary care physicians and two dentists per 10,000 residents.
• About 30 percent of adults identify themselves as smokers in Davidson and Randolph Counties. In Guilford, it’s nearly 40 percent.
• About 14 percent of Davidson County residents were exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace in 2010.
• Heart disease was the leading cause of death, with a rate of about 264 deaths per 100,000 people in 2010
•Lung and bronchus cancer rate is 90 per 100,000, compared to 78 in peer counties and 76 statewide.

Source: 2012 Davidson County, Guilford County and Randolph County Health Assessments.