It’s not just you. It’s the cost of food, too.

If you are going to talk about access to healthy food, you have to talk about affordability. Why is Top Ramen cheaper than veggies? – King County resident

This was the crux of a community conversation in South King County where residents shared the on-the-ground challenges to eating healthier food–challenges that go far beyond just choosing fruit instead of chips.

Locally, one in five South King County families do not always have enough to eat, and healthy food is even harder for some to afford. Low-income families who cannot reliably get enough food (also known as food insecurity) use a number of coping strategies that put them at risk for diet-related health consequences. To stretch budgets, food insecure households often purchase cheap, energy-dense foods to stave off hunger, and parents eat irregularly or skip meals, sacrificing their own nutrition for the sake of their children. Twenty percent of youth and twenty-eight percent of adults in South King County are not at a healthy weight, putting them at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Food isnecure

Why does it matter?
Nationally, obesity is on track to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer in the United States. In Washington, if we can reduce average body mass index (BMI) by 5% by 2030, we can prevent over 11,000 new cases of cancer. That’s in part, why Public Health has worked in close partnership with communities to start to tackle the challenges of a food system that makes it more difficult for lower-income families to access healthier foods.

Investing in affordable, healthy food solutions
King County and Public Health have focused on removing some of the local economic and societal constraints to eating healthy food by centering efforts on two key approaches. The Local Food Initiative was launched by King County’s Executive Dow Constantine in 2014 to get more locally grown, healthy and affordable food to kitchen tables. To accomplish this vision, the initiative supports strategies that create a robust and resilient local food system while increasing access to nutritious, affordable food in under-served communities.

Through Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH), three main entities in the region, Public Health – Seattle & King County, the Healthy King County Coalition, and Seattle Children’s Hospital were brought together to work directly with community partners to address healthy food access.

elk runPICH supported an innovative effort by the South King County Food Coalition to increase healthy food access in their community by turning a former golf course into Elk Run Farm. Food banks in South King County serve 30,000 families a month, but fresh produce can be hard to come by. With its establishment, Elk Run Farm utilizes volunteers from the community and surrounding schools to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables. This produce is then distributed to the Coalition’s 12 member food banks.

Fresh bucksAnother strategy has been to reduce the barriers low income families face in being able to afford fresh, local fruits and vegetables by incentivizing low income families to use their SNAP benefits at farmers markets. The Fresh Bucks program, administered by the City of Seattle, provides a $1 to $1 match for people who use their SNAP benefits at farmers markets (up to $10 match). In 2016, over 4,500 people participated spending $135,000 of Fresh Bucks. This program continues to expand and will be offered at 32 farmers markets in 2017.

bagsAcross King County, the Good Food Bag program is another effort that aims to increase the accessibility of fresh produce. The program, run by Tilth Alliance and Washington Community Action Network, delivers subsidized farm-fresh produce to families with limited financial resources in Seattle and South King County and has distribution sites that include preschools, churches and public health centers.

The bags, which are delivered weekly, contain locally grown fruits and vegetables, along with recipes for cooking healthy meals. In 2016, 5901 Good Food Bags were delivered to 888 families.

Taken as part of a comprehensive strategy, these programs have the potential to increase healthy food access to ensure that everyone, regardless of income-level, has the opportunity to make healthy choices.

A version of this post, How King County Tackles Healthy Food Affordabilty, was originally published at Stanford Center on Longevity Sightlines Project. 

Originally posted June 2, 2017.

One thought on “It’s not just you. It’s the cost of food, too.

  1. GREAT job on the “why does it matter?” paragraph; you really nail the public health implications of what’s traditionally considered a personal choice of ‘what to eat’. Nice job!

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