Community Gardens to Improve Family Health in NW Pasadena’s Food Deserts

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From the City of Pasadena’s 2012 Quality Of Life Index On Health, by Dr. Eric Walsh, Public Health Director; available for download by clicking here.

In Pasadena, there are approximately 47 grocery stores/markets, which amounts to about two grocery stores per square mile.  This map of Pasadena divided into its seven political districts also includes the stratification of grocery stores into local markets or mini-markets and large supermarkets.

Ideally there would be an equal distribution of grocery stores in walking distance from every neighborhood, with a larger proportion of stores being supermarkets than convenience stores.  Disproportionate distribution encourages the presence of food deserts in a community.

PCGC-board-meets-with-Dr.-Eric-Walsh1_web-featA group of The Conservancy’s founders met with Dr. Walsh n November 2012, to seek his views on Pasadena’s needs for community gardens and on how best to structure a donor collective to assist the city. Dr. Walsh identifies food deserts as neighborhoods having a scarcity of grocery stores and an abundance of fast food and convenience stores. (See attached map.) Food-desert areas, he notes in his department’s Quality of LIfe 2012 Index, also tend to be densely populated with lower-income, minority residents, and he recommends community gardens (along with farmers’ markets and more grocery stores) to bring healthy food to Pasadenans who need it.

“Community gardens are plots of land used to cultivate plants, either to eat or just for recreation. Community gardens provide a form of physical activity, help reduce blood pressure and alleviate muscle tension, and provide free or inexpensive produce. Strong evidence shows that gardeners consume vegetables more frequently than their non-gardener counterparts,” notes Dr Walsh in the Community Gardens section of his report. “Community gardens provide a forum for local residents to relax and connect with other community members,” he added.”

Below, is an excerpt from the Quality of Life Index on Health.

OBESITY AND DIABETES

The shift from infectious diseases to chronic diseases is best exemplified by the rising rates of obesity. Recent epidemics of chronic health conditions such as obesity and diabetes in both adults and children indicate that cardiovascular disease will likely remain the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in years to come. In 2007 and 2008, 19.4% of adults and 20.7% of children in Pasadena were obese, respectively To compound the situation, obesity does not equally affect all races. For example, adult Latinos (29.4%) and African Americans (29.2%) have notably higher obesity rates than their White (17.6%) and Asian/Pacific Islander (8.9%) counterparts. Among school-aged children, Pacific Islanders (37.1%) and Latinos (27.5%) have the highest obesity rates.

Rising obesity and diabetes rates threaten to halt or reverse gains in life expectancy. Communities can combat this by increasing access to and safety of places for physical activity; increasing accessibility of affordable fruits, vegetables, and healthy foods; increasing the number of grocery stores and farmers’ markets; and decreasing the number of fast food outlets. For example, MyPlate is the current nutrition guide recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, replacing the 19-year-old food pyramid. It encourages individuals to make healthy dietary choices by including grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and protein in meals and eating modest portions to maintain a healthy weight.

While risk for obesity is a complex mixture of genetics, diet, and cultural influences, physical activity is still an important component to reducing or preventing obesity. An assessment done in 2007 estimated that almost 35% of adults in Pasadena, 18 years and older, were living a sedentary lifestyle. Children did not fare much better. Their fitness levels are measured annually by the California Physical Fitness Test (PFT) (Figure 6). Results show that less than 30% of the students meet the PFT’s minimum requirements.