In low-income, Texas communities of the Brazos Valley and Lower Rio Grande Valley, access to healthy, affordable foods is difficult: food stores are scant; prices are high; and the variety of healthy foods is limited. Residents often must travel long distances to a supermarket, and they lack access to public transportation. Residents of these two regions tend to eat more energy-dense food, which can put them at higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease due to the high sugar, fat or salt content.
Researchers are working with their partner communities to make healthy food accessible and affordable. Researchers are assessing the food sources in the communities, noting how food is distributed through markets, charities, federal programs, and community food systems (farmer’s markets, neighborhood gardens, schools, and microenterprises). Researchers identify, photograph and map all food sources in the communities and several miles beyond them. Then, the researchers record the availability, variety, and price of foods at traditional, nontraditional, and convenience food stores. Investigators will ask community members and food suppliers about the difficulties they face when trying to bring healthy foods into the community or trying to find healthy foods to purchase.
After completing the food inventory, the researchers will work with community members to develop four interventions in Brazos Valley and two in Hidalgo County. Interventions may include strategies to help residents create demand for healthy food at their local convenience stores, train convenience-store owners how to sell healthy foods successfully, and promote healthy eating and stores that sell healthy foods. The partners may also devise ways to start and maintain farmer’s markets supplied by small farms and personal gardens and help communities and families start their own gardens and mobile markets. To evaluate how well the interventions help improve the food supply, researchers will conduct focus groups, interviews, and surveys to determine if the residents find it easier to get healthy food on an ongoing basis. Graduate students, community health workers, and other participants working with the researchers will complete before and after surveys to assess the value of this project as a part of their public health education.