In an ongoing effort to improve access to and consumption of fresh produce and other healthy foods in underserved communities, Texas Health Resources, in conjuction with Gallup, is launching a first-of-its kind nutrition security study in Tarrant, Dallas and Collin counties. Nutrition security is having consistent access to affordable foods and beverages that promote well-being and prevent disease, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The goal of the study is to better understand the challenges around healthy food access to guide the health system’s expansion of current programs; engage the community in long-term solutions; and increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in North Texas. The research effort supports the health system’s overall mission of improving the health of the people in the communities Texas Health serves.
“Access to healthy foods is a critical social determinant that can greatly affect long-term physical and mental well-being, especially in children,” said Texas Health CEO Barclay Berdan, FACHE. “By working with a world-renowned research organization such as Gallup, we hope gain a better understanding of the issues our communities are facing in creating equitable access to healthy foods and learn more about the needs of the individuals we seek to support.”
The study will kick off in February when researchers begin conducting interviews with community members in the three counties. Their focus will be on ZIP code areas that have the greatest need for interventions, as identified in the most recent Texas Health Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA).
Next, Gallup will conduct focus groups and interviews with key stakeholder groups, including a diverse sample of retailers; elected officials; federal, city and county staff; farmers and food producers; healthcare organizations; local foundations; food service suppliers; nonprofit organizations; and community activists.
Results are expected later this year, including a visual representation or map that depicts how respondents think about their opportunities and challenges related to healthy foods and how they interact with, and make decisions, in their food environment. Such graphical maps can help identify and visualize gaps in knowledge or experience among groups, according to Gallup senior researcher Ellyn Maese.
“This approach offers a window into the minds and lives of respondents that other types of data might obscure,” Maese said. “Through mental landscaping, we can assess how potential changes such as new programs or policies may impact the community to determine where resources might be best spent.”
Texas Health supports a broad range of community health initiatives with programs focused on nutrition security. They include the Good For You Pantry and Fresh Access efforts, which provide free produce and healthy foods in schools and community centers, and Double Up Food Bucks in select grocery stores and farmers markets. In addition, the health system supports urban farms and school and community gardens. In June 2023, Texas Health hit a major milestone, marking the donation of more than 1.1 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, serving more than 157,000 individuals in Tarrant County since 2020. Texas Health also began to expand its efforts to include areas of Dallas County and beyond.
“If we want to make a lasting impact on community well-being, we need to get a deeper understanding of the needs of the people we are serving and make sure that the systems and interventions we put in place truly address those needs,” Berdan said. “This study will play a pivotal role by helping us structure, refine and coordinate our efforts in the years to come.”
source: press release