New study examines where Columbia residents buy food

Friday, July 6, 2012 | 5:16 p.m. CDT; updated 6:47 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 7, 2012

COLUMBIA — A recent survey asking Columbia residents where they buy their food found that 28 percent of the population is "food insecure."

Food insecurity means people don't have consistent access to enough food to support a healthy lifestyle. The most food insecure residents live in the Second Ward (north and northwest Columbia) and the Sixth Ward (southeast Columbia), according to survey results.


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The survey, called The Columbia Area Community Food Assessment, also found that:

  • Eight percent of shoppers in the First Ward (central Columbia) and the Fifth Ward (southwest Columbia) regularly purchase food at convenience stores.
  • Eleven percent of shoppers in the First Ward shop at convenience stores because it is the closest food source.
  • Almost 14 percent of all those surveyed use food pantries, with the most in the First Ward (31.9 percent).
  • About 46 percent of households surveyed reported having a personal garden or community garden plot.
  • Nearly 72 percent had been to a farmers market in the previous year.
  • Farmers market customers eat 2.51 vegetable servings per day, compared to 1.97 servings for those who don't shop farmers markets.

A total of 774 people responded to the survey, which investigated where people shop for food and what drives food purchasing decisions.

The survey was done by the Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods Food Asset Mapping Team.

It was funded by a coalition of community health and transportation agencies, including PedNet, MU Extension Healthy Lifestyle Initiative—Boone County, the Board of Health for Columbia and Boone County and the MU Center for Applied Research and Environmental Systems.

The study set out to collect solid data from residents rather than rely on assumptions about how people buy food, say its authors. 

To more accurately represent the community's demographics, an effort was made not to conduct the survey at campuses, the public library, bus stations, public housing, the health department and food pantries, said Michelle Kaiser, one of the study's authors.

"The whole point of doing this survey was to get localized data," Kaiser said.

Results were presented at the Board of Health's June meeting.

"We really hope people recognize the connection between limited access and long-term health problems," Kaiser said. "Choices people make are often based on proximity."

This is especially true for people with limited time or transportation, she said.

Yet, the study concluded that placing new supermarkets in areas with low access was not likely to change eating behaviors. 

Education and affordability are just as important, according to the study. The coalition that funded the research expects to use the data for educational and grant purposes.

The coalition's goals include increasing food access, creating food entrepreneurship opportunities and more community gardens, teaching people how to grow food and prepare it and fostering discussions about the food system in Columbia.

The survey results can foster dialogue about food access issues, said Vera Massey, who works as a nutrition and health education specialist with the MU Boone County Extension Center.

"People may not see food access as an immediate issue," Massey said. "It's important, but it's not seen on all the radar screens."

The coalition will meet next at 4:30 p.m. July 30 at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices, 300 S. Providence Rd. The public is encouraged to attend.

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Allan Sharrock July 6, 2012 | 6:04 p.m.

"Yet, the study concluded that placing new supermarkets in areas with low access was not likely to change eating behaviors."

I think that is a very important sentence. It highlights that policy changes doesn't lead to behavior changes.

(Report Comment)
Harold Sutton July 6, 2012 | 7:58 p.m.

I agree with Allan. But I also have not heard of any starving people in Columbia. I have noticed a significant number of obese people in the areas that noted as "food insecure".

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen July 7, 2012 | 4:00 p.m.

I've never cared for the sanitized term 'food insecure.' It makes it sound like the food itself has an esteem problem. Why can't we use the direct, old, accurate terms like hunger and starvation? Too graphic for us to handle?

Yes, there are people starving in our city. Kind of like drugs: if you're not around it, you don't see it. Mr. Sutton comments on people in the 'insecure' areas as being obese; not much was mentioned in this article about the types of food available at food banks and to low-income budgets: a lot of starches, sugars, fattening stuff. Healthier food is more expensive.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock July 10, 2012 | 7:20 a.m.

Greg I think I may have to disagree with the healthier food is more expensive reference.

(Report Comment)

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