All Catawba County community members have equitable access to healthy foods and culturally appropriate resources.

Why Is This Important?

Food is a basic building block of health that affects both behavioral and physical health. Where someone lives strongly influences access to healthy foods. Limited access to healthy foods links to obesity, cardiovascular conditions, nutritional deficiencies, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease (North Carolina Institute of Medicine, 2020). Limited access to healthy foods is defined as living more than ½ a mile in urban areas or more than 10 miles in rural areas from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store. Census tracts where a significant number of residents have limited access to healthy foods are considered food deserts (United States Department of Agriculture, 2019). Low-income neighborhoods and those with large minority populations are less likely to have supermarkets and the available stores often have more limited healthy options and may have higher prices than their counterparts in wealthier communities (NCIOM, 2020).

In Catawba County, 8 of 31 census tracts (25.8%) have limited access to healthy foods with 14,151 community members living more than a ½ mile (urban) or 10 miles (rural) from the nearest supermarket. Nearly 1 in 3 adults (31.3%) age 20 and over report a body mass index (BMI) of greater than or equal to 30 (obese). In the 2019 Catawba County Community Health Opinion Survey, 42.6% of the respondents reported eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day; compared to 51.6% in 2015 (Catawba County Public Health, 2020). Respondents were asked in follow-up why they felt they were not eating 5 servings of fruits or vegetables a day, 23.5% responded they were too expensive and 7.2% selected it was not convenient for them to buy fruits and vegetables 2015 (Catawba County Public Health, 2020). Improving access to healthy food is a critical component of creating an equitable and sustainable food system and a healthier community. (The Food Trust, 2010).

References:

Catawba County Public Health. (2020). 2019 Catawba County Community Health Assessment. Retrieved on November 30, 2020 from https://catawbacountync.gov/site/assets/files/2488/2019_catawba_county_cha.pdf.

North Carolina Institute of Medicine. (2020). Healthy North Carolina 2030: A Path Toward Health. Retrieved on December 1, 2020 from https://nciom.org/healthy-north-carolina-2030/.

The Food Trust. (2010). The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters. Retrieved on December 1, 2020 from http://thefoodtrust.org/uploads/media_items/grocerygap.original.pdf.

United States Department of Agriculture. (2019). Food Access Research Atlas. Retrieved on December 1, 2020 from https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/go-to-the-atlas/.

United States Department of Agriculture. (2019). Food Access Research Atlas Definitions. Retrieved on December 1, 2020 from https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/documentation/.

Story Behind the Curve

Food insecurity refers to a lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food security may reflect a household's need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods (Feeding America, 2020). 

Low-income census tracts where a significant number or share of residents are more than ½ or 1 mile (urban) or 10 miles (rural) from the nearest supermarket, also referred to as food deserts, are included in the Food Access Research Atlas map below. 

References:

Feeding America. (2022). 2019 Overall County Food Insecurity In North Carolina, Catawba County. Retrieved on March 30, 2022 from https://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2019/overall/north-carolina/county/catawba. 

United States Department of Agriculture. (2022). Food Access Research Atlas. Retrieved on March 30, 2022 from https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/go-to-the-atlas/.

Partners

In June 2020, Catawba County Public Health and LiveWell Catawba convened work groups for each of the 2020 to 2023 health priorities: chronic disease, behavioral health, and healthy foods & healthy weight. The Catawba County Food Council, formerly the Healthy Foods & Healthy Weight Work Group, narrowed their focus to reducing food deserts in Catawba County. As the work group moved through the results-based accountability process to develop the community health improvement plan (CHIP), they discussed on an ongoing basis who are partners and community members that are not involved that should be involved.

The Catawba County Food Council is continuously expanding to include a diverse group of community members, agencies, and sectors. A current list of Catawba County Food Council members is available here.

What Works

The Catawba County Food Council through the strategy selection process discussed best practices that work to support equitable access to health foods and culturally appropriate resources, potential low cost and no cost ideas, and data needed to better inform the work.  

Strategy Selection Process

In 2020, the Catawba County Food Council selected the overarching strategies of community gardens and farmers markets to support equitable access to health foods and culturally appropriate resources. The strategy selection process included the work group members rating each strategy idea as high, medium, or low on the criteria of leverage (short-term: 3 years, intermediate: 3 to 5 years, and long-term: 10 years), feasibility, values, and specificity. The work group then reviewed the rating survey results, discussed each strategy, identified the overarching strategies based on related themes of the strategies selected, and determined, based on the criteria and rankings, which strategies should not be included in the community health improvement plan.

In 2021, the Catawba County Food Council updated their overarching strategies to target food pantries and farmers markets. The Food Council had met with volunteers with community gardens and found that the majority of gardens were already donating produce within the community and were accessible to local community members. The Food Council met with the two largest food pantries, Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry (GHCCM) and Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry (ECCCM) to assess culturally appropriate foods and resources and identify education needs for community members. 

What are the programs and/or interventions recognized as best practices? 

  • SNAP Double Bucks/ Double Dollars programs
  • Education for food pantries to share on how to use frequently received foods and food safety
  • Expansion of grocery stores into food deserts

What are potential low cost and/or no cost ideas for immediate improvements? 

  • Contacting local volunteers and experts to provide education 
  • Convening all partners and community members to discuss food access
  • Hosting healthy cooking demonstrations at the farmers markets
  • Partnering with the YMCA to use their mobile kitchen for healthy cooking techniques
  • Promoting available resources (farmers markets, community gardens, food pantries, etc.)
  • Promoting awareness of programs and resources available related to food access 
  • Sharing information on healthy eating and resources with the childcare community
  • Social media campaigns

What data is needed to better inform the work? 

  • Dollar amount of SNAP Double Bucks redeemed
  • Number of people receiving SNAP Double Bucks
  • Number of adults who eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily at the county level
  • Number of grocery stores near food deserts and/or number of corner or convenience stores in food deserts
Strategy

At the Catawba County Food Council meeting on January 24, 2022, work group members reviewed and updated their current strategies based on what was working well, what was not working well and/or could be removed or changed, and how these strategies impact health disparities in Catawba County. 

Strategies: Food Pantries

  • Develop education for food pantries on:
    • Food safety (thawing, freezing, temperatures, safe storage)
    • Food preservation (freezing)
    • Easy, family friendly recipes using commodity foods 
    • Translate recipes into Spanish and other languages as needed

Strategies: Farmers Markets

  • Maintain and sustain farmers market SNAP Double Bucks and WIC Bonus Buck programs
  • Find sustainable funding
  • Educate community on SNAP/EBT use and Double Bucks programs at farmers markets
  • Community health worker position at Hickory Farmers Market
  • Expand number of farmers and farmers markets that accept SNAP/EBT
  • Educate local farmers at farmers markets and hobby farmers on how to donate their fresh produce to food pantries
  • Virtual education on SNAP/EBT
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