Community surveys look at the health of local neighborhoods

An in-depth evaluation of food quality, availability and affordability in three low-income Humboldt County neighborhoods was recently conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services' Public Health staff and community volunteers.

Information was gathered in parts of southeast Fortuna, downtown Arcata and west Eureka using a Communities of Excellence in Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention survey, called CX3, which was developed by the California Department of Public Health.

CX3 survey results provide a framework that can serve as a guide to help improve the health of low-income neighborhoods.

"The project's goal is to find out how a neighborhood environment, including walkability and food access, supports the health of local residents and then offer residents, merchants, decision-makers and local health groups a focal point as they work to build a healthier community," said Public Health Director Susan Buckley.

Public Health staff will be visiting the Fortuna area they surveyed last year and are inviting residents to a bilingual community meeting to share the results of data collected in the survey. The meeting will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. July 12 at the Fortuna Community Services Center, 2331 Rohnerville Road. This family-friendly event offers an opportunity for residents to meet their neighbors and talk about their community's strengths and weaknesses and ways to work together to improve access to healthy food and physical activity opportunities. A free dinner will be served. Reservations are not required. Similar community meetings were held this spring in Arcata and Eureka.

"We've had a very positive response to the two community meetings so far," said Kelley Kyle, CX3 project director and a Public Health senior health education specialist specializing in nutrition and physical activity programs.

"Neighbors expressed their gratitude for a chance to meet their neighbors and talk about what they like about where they live and what they would like to see more of."

Local data for the CX3 survey was gathered in several ways. The first step was using the Global Information System to map the location of grocery stores, convenience stores and fast-food outlets in the three neighborhoods surveyed. Once food establishments were located, Public Health staff and community volunteers visited each store and fast-food outlet in the area and recorded what kind of healthy food was available and the quality, quantity and price of fruit and vegetables. Food marketing practices were also assessed.

Next, Public Health staff and volunteers went to each of the three neighborhoods to get detailed looks at where people live, work, play, go to school and shop for food. Information collected included the range of healthy and unhealthy food sources in each area, the number of parks and safe places to walk or exercise and public transportation options to and from large grocery stores.

"The local data and resulting performance measurements show how a community currently 'measures' and where it needs to improve to become a community of excellence," Kyle said.

Survey results show areas of possible improvement in all three local neighborhoods, Kyle said. For example, many fruits and vegetables are expensive in these neighborhoods as compared to what other communities in the state pay for the same products.

"There are also a surprising number of fast-food outlets compared to grocery stores that carry fruits and vegetables and nutrient-rich foods," Kyle said. "Many corner neighborhood stores could be encouraged to improve the quality and amount of produce they carry."

Through the community meetings, Public Health has also identified "neighborhood champions," people who are willing to work on projects together to improve the health of the neighborhoods surveyed. Several projects have already been identified, Kyle said.

In Eureka, residents will be building a playground in one day at Jefferson School in conjunction with the KaBOOM! program. Participants will gather rain or shine on July 14 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the school at 1000 B St. To sign up, visit jefferson-project.org.

In Arcata, residents are interested in reviving a community garden on G Street.

For more information about CX3 and the community dinner in Fortuna, contact Kelley Kyle at kkyle@co.humboldt.ca.us or 441-5080.

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