by Katie Turnbow
DISCLAIMER: This post totally represents the ramblings in my mind and in no way reflects my very awesome employer.
The county health department (for whom I work) is embarking on a project that will look at what the health needs of the county are and how we, as a community, can help create a healthier La Paz County. Recently I watched the HBO special Weight of the Nation that was done in partnership with CDC. Access to healthy fruits and vegetables were highlighted in the special. So here I was, still pumped up from watching the special and sitting in a planning meeting with my colleagues when I blurted out, “I would love to see a farmer’s market.” To which a colleague replied, “Vegetables at a farmers market aren’t any healthier than vegetables at the grocery store.”
And I love my colleagues for challenging me!
I like to get excited passionate about things that I believe in without necessarily researching them first. So I was caught. She was right. Also, my enthusiasm was a little crushed. Vegetables at a farmers market aren’t any healthier than vegetables at the grocery store. I fell victim to my biggest pet peeve: I didn’t research my opinions before I formed them and I really can’t stand it when someone tries to argue an unformed opinion.
So I did what I should have done months ago… research.
I started with the American Journal of Health Education (AJHE) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC). The AJHE looked at farmer’s markets in rural settings in order to see the benefits to a community. One thing was certain; there wasn’t much research to start with. But there is a ton of information on the state of health of people in rural settings. If I was clever, I would do an infographic titled ‘State of the Health in La Paz County’. But I’m not that clever so I will just ramble out some statistics.
Over 33% of U.S. adults aged [greater than or equal to] 20 years and almost 19% of U.S. children aged 6-19 years are obese. (1,2) The steep increase in the prevalence of obesity over the past several decades has become a considerable public health concern because of its association with serious, life-threatening illnesses. (3) People who are obese are at greater risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease; and obese children are becoming victims of these diseases that traditionally were seen in adults. (3,4)
Obesity disproportionately affects minority, low-socioeconomic-status (SES) and rural populations. (5,6) African American adults living in rural areas have the highest obesity prevalence rates of all groups studied. (5) American children living in rural areas are 25% more likely to be overweight or obese than children living in metropolitan areas. (7)
Why rural residence increases the risk for obesity is unclear. Rural communities tend to be populated by people who are at greater risk for obesity due to age and low SES. (8) On the other hand, the physical or structural environment of rural communities may present challenges to healthy levels of physical activity and good nutrition. (7,8)
All these statistics come from the AJHE study. But they are backed up by research our department has done and can be found HERE.
So, how does having a farmer’s market change this?
The study said:
“Farmer’s markets are a potential evidence-based intervention for obesity prevention. Recent research has supported the potential for farmer’s markets to improve health outcomes, particularly among women (12) and children. (13) Also, the national effort to allow low-income community members to purchase food from farmers using their EBT cards demonstrates the support for farmer’s markets at the policy level. (20) Further, the lack of demonstrated relationships between demographic, income, and educational factors and farmer’s market participation (17) indicates a potential for participation among at-risk groups if farmer’s markets are promoted effectively. With the increasing popularity of farmer’s markets, health educators can make an impact on community health by collaborating with their local communities to initiate a farmer’s market.”
Even the study wasn’t very clear. CDC is just now starting to do studies that link farmer’s markets, increase in school healthy lunches and physical activities and community design to a decrease in obesity. For now CDC is promoting farmers markets, school lunch policies, PE, and healthy community design.
While CDC conducts their studies, I have a hypothesis.
WARNING! This hypothesis isn’t based on any scientific data!
When I go to the farmer’s markets in Phoenix, I’m excited to buy healthy food. I feel like I’m getting something special, something local, something no other community in Arizona has. It’s definitely something Parker doesn’t have. I’ve gone enough times to know which farms are selling and who’s produce I like better. If I want candy striped beets, I know I can get them in the middle of the market. If I want sweet apples, I know I can get them right at the entrance. And, if I want to splurge on a hot dog from the Short Leash food truck, I know I will be getting a dog that was made by the local sausage shop Schreiners.
When I come home with my bags of fruits and veggies and an occasional bar of soap made by a local artesian, I feel excited. I want to eat all my kale in one sitting and can the beets that I just picked up. I feel like I’m a part of the community. I feel more committed to eating healthy because I’ve invested more into my food. Isn’t that inspiring? It is for me.
Does La Paz County need a farmer’s market?
I’m going to say yes. I don’t feel that community pull when I shop for veggies at the grocery store. I’m not invested. Often, I don’t even eat what I buy. Yes, that is incredibly wasteful of me. And I know that in the smaller communities of Salome, Wenden, Bouse, Cibola, and Ehrenberg, fresh fruits and veggies are hard to come by. I know, I’ve tried to shop in Bouse. It’s just not there. Residents in the smaller communities shouldn’t have to travel an hour just to do grocery shopping when they can have access to healthy foods in their communities. Agriculture is La Paz County’s second largest economy (tourism is first), so why can’t we have more locally grown food being sold here?
Let me leave you with one of my memories. This would be so much cooler if I had a pensieve. When I was a kid I spent most of my time on my Grandfather’s farm in the Parker Valley. He mostly grew alfalfa but there was a small spot of land towards the end of the farm that was partially shaded by a big tree and alongside the irrigation ditch. We grew all sorts of vegetables there but I especially remember the carrots. We would dig up a carrot and wash it off in the ditch and proclaim them to be the best carrots we ever ate. I’ve never eaten so many carrots in my life.
We might not ever see a farmer’s market realized here in La Paz County and I’m okay with that. But if the community wants one, I will give my all in support.
(1.) Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Ogden CL, et al. Prevalence and trends in obesity among U.S. adults, 1999-2008. lAMA. 2010;303:2235-241.
(2.) Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, et al. Prevalence of high body mass index in U.S. children and adolescents, 2007-2008. lAMA. 2010;303(3):242-249.
(3.) Koplan JP, Liverman CT, Kraak VI (eds.). Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2005.
(4.) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The Practical Guide: Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. (NIH Publication No. 00-4084). Available at http://www. nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/prctgd_c.pdf. Accessed July 27, 2011.
(5.) Jackson JE, Doescher MP, Jerant AF, et al. A national study of obesity prevalence and trends by type of rural county. J Rural Health. 2005; 21(2):140-148.
(6.) Wang Y, Beydoun MA. The obesity epidemic in the United States–gender, age, socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and geographic characteristics: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Epidemiol Rev. 2007;29:6-28.
(7.) Lutfiyya MN, Lipsky MS, Wisdom-Behounek J, et al. Is rural residency a risk factor for overweight and obesity for U.S. children? Obesity. 2007;15(9) :2348-2356.
(8.) Tai-Seale T, Chandler C. Nutrition and Overweight Concerns in Rural Areas: A Literature Review. Rural Healthy People 2010: A Companion Document to Healthy People 2010. Volume 2. College Station, TX: The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, School of Rural Public Health, Southwest Rural Health Research Center; 2003.
(12.) Jilcott SB, Keyserling TC, Samuel-Hodge CD, et al. Linking clinical care to community resources for cardiovascular disease prevention: the North Carolina Enhanced WISEWOMAN project. ] Womens Health. 2006;15:56%583.
(13.) Leung CW, Laraia BA, Kelly M, et al. The influence of neighborhood food stores on change in young girls’ body mass index. Am ] Prey Med. 2011;41(1):43-51.
(17.) Blanck HM, Thompson OM, Nebeling L, et al. Improving fruit and vegetable consumption: use of farm-to-consumer venues among U.S. adults. Prey Chronic Dis. 2011;8:1-5.
(20.) Lock K, Pomerleau 1, Causer L, et al. The global burden of disease attributable to low consumption of fruit and vegetables: implications for the global strategy on diet. Bull World Health Org. 2005;83(2):100-108.