April 27, 2018
Putting an end to food insecurity
When it comes to healthy eating, choosing an apple in place of that candy bar for your midday snack may be the largest struggle.
But for many Douglas County residents, that’s just one half of the battle.
Some of our neighborhoods lack nearby grocery stores with healthy food to begin with — and even if options are available, those foods may be too expensive for people to afford. Families without a vehicle or living far from public transit face an even greater challenge.
With limited or no access to supermarkets that stock fresh produce, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean meats, these individuals often have diets high in calories, but low in nutritional value — putting them at greater risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
To better evaluate and ultimately prevent potential food deserts throughout our community, Douglas County Health Department is once again conducting the Nutrition Environment Measures Survey (NEMS) assessment in local grocery and convenience stores.
More than 40 volunteers, including students from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), will divide and conquer to survey 433 retail food outlets, participating in a community-wide scavenger hunt to assess just how available healthy food is in Douglas County.
For Jake Kampschneider and Anna Adams, volunteers from Food Bank for the Heartland, the NEMS assessment provides an opportunity to witness firsthand the challenges their clients face on a daily basis.
“There was one store we went into that had nothing. It was just liquor and snack food,” said Adams. “That’s what kind of store it is, but for people who live in that neighborhood, it might be the only store close to them to get food at.”
The fourth assessment since 2009, this year’s NEMS assessment will provide information to public health officials describing the current nutrition environment, which can be used to alert community leaders of health issues contributing to chronic disease rates.
“It helps us realize who our community is, and what types of stores and food are available in our community so we can better equip people to handle opportunities that are out there,” said Kampschneider.
With the survey data, local leaders can start discussions on possible policies, changes, improvements and incentives to ensure access to healthy foods across Douglas County neighborhoods.
“Getting to see the different customers of the stores that we’ve gone to has been my favorite part of the process,” said Adams. “These are the people we’re helping.”