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.
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.