Access to healthy foods in Cowlitz County has its good and bad points. We find through the 2017 County Health Ranking that 16% of residents had food insecurity which means they lack access to food and 10% lack access to healthy foods. Our food insecurity ranking is higher than the Washington state average. This is also verified by FISH Food Banks that in 2016 served 1634 households and 37% of those receiving food were children under 18 years of age. Nearly 30% of all adults receive SNAP benefits (Food Stamps) and 53% of our school-age children receive free or reduced lunches which is than the comparable state average of 48%.
While we have a significant number of people facing food crises, we are also fortunate to have programs like SNAP, FISH, farmers market, and school lunches. The school lunch program is critical to three schools that have more than 90% of their children receiving free or reduced meals
Countywide there is a strong commitment to donating food to alleviate hunger. Lower Columbia CAP has the Help Warehouse and distributes donated food and commodities. There is also the one monthly distribution by Food Lifeline in the Highlands neighborhood and the lineup begins an hour before the truck arrives.
Federal and state nutrition rules have changed reducing the amount of sodium and sugar used in school meals and sale of on-campus soda pop is limited with an emphasis on water and juices instead. The school garden initiative will soon begin their 15th year and are increasing access to healthy foods for school-age children. Along with the many food drives additional access to food is provided by faith-based organizations and volunteer groups who have stepped forward to provide meals. The Stone Soup and Belly Brigade are two examples of food and outreach provided to low income and homeless families by volunteers.
Even with the availability of healthy foods, consumption of good nutrition remains a challenge with 38% of adults reported being obese and 18% of 10th graders identifying as obese according to the 2016 Healthy Youth Survey. Both of these figures run higher than the state average. Children who are overweight or obese according to the Healthy Youth Survey do more poorly in school than children with a healthy weight.
Deaths due to diabetes in Cowlitz County is significantly higher than the state average. As the community seeks answers to making sure people do not go hungry there also has to be the effort to improve the quality of food they receive and promote active lifestyles.
- Plant an extra row and donte to local food banks and feeding programs
- Support local food drives
- Buy locally grown and produced foods
- Reduce consumption of sugary foods with little nutritional value
- Encourage and support farm to institution programs
- Learn about healthy weight and the health value for individuals
- Support gardens at every school
- Preference given by Institutions to buying locally grown and produced foods
- Plant urban orchards
- Provide incentives for low-income households to use Farmers Markets
- Plan transportation systems that provide access to gardens, Framers Markets, and food distribution sites
- Fund small farm entrepreneurs
- Limit growth of fast food businesses
- Require nutrition decision prompts in restaurants and institutions
- Write development standards that promote access to health foods