The Geography of Nutrition: U.S. Food Environment Atlas maps your food options and chances of making healthy choices

2010-02-20T00:00:00Z The Geography of Nutrition: U.S. Food Environment Atlas maps your food options and chances of making healthy choicesBy MARLA TONCRAY, News Editor Ledger Independent
February 20, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Healthy eating habits are being stressed more and more as America's population combats obesity, diabetes, and lack of physical activity for all age groups.

Working out, daily walking, lower intake of fatty foods, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet and other factors are all recommended to improve one's overall health.

Eating out has become a daily part of our lives; from breakfast to dinner, Americans can get just about anything to go, anytime of day. The concept of eating on the go, or fast-food, has increased tremendously since the 1960s. When I was a young child and early teen, you had to go to Cincinnati to find a fast-food restaurant.

Then in the early 1970s, Long John Silver's opened their location on U.S. 68, and next came Maysville's first "fast-food" hamburger restaurant, Burger Queen, where deSha's is located today.

And as the population of our region has grown, so too has the number of fast-food establishments.

With eating habits, as well as work habits and traditional roles within the household changing, we are more pressed for time, which can translate into poor eating habits.

As data shows, a person's eating habits can affect everything from their ability to concentrate in school -- if they are unable to have breakfast or lunch -- to weight gain, and high blood pressure.

A new tool has been launched on the Internet to compare data on how each state, and counties within the state, can gauge its performance in areas of obesity, the number of grocery stores, food prices, supercenters, SNAP authorized retailers and other information.

The United State Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service launched the U.S. Food Environment Atlas as a tool for providing "spatial overview of a community's ability to access health food and its success in doing so."

The Atlas documents these factors which can influence food choices and diet quality.

When viewing the Atlas, users can create maps showing variations in a single indicator across the U.S., as well as view county-level indicators for a selected county and identify counties sharing the same degree of multiple indicators; for example, counties with high obesity rates, poverty rates.

The Atlas assembles statistics on three broad categories of food environment factors:

-- Food choices -- indicators of the community's access to and acquisition of healthy, affordable food such as access and proximity to a grocery store; the number of foodstores and restaurants; expenditures on fast foods; food and nutrition assistance program participation; quantities of foods eaten; food prices; food taxes; and availability of local foods.

-- Health and well-being -- indicators of the community's success in maintaining healthy diets such as food insecurity; diabetes and obesity rates; and physical activity levels.

-- Community characteristics -- indicators of community characteristics that might influence the food environment such as demographic composition; income and poverty; population loss; metro-nonmetro status; natural amenities; and recreation and fitness centers.

The Atlas includes 90 indicators of the food environment. The year and geographic level of the indicators vary to better accommodate data from a variety of sources. Some data are from the Census of Population of 2000, while others are as recent as 2009. Some are at the county level while others are at the state or regional level.

The Atlas uses the most recent county-level data whenever possible.

When researching how many fast food restaurants are within the seven-county Buffalo Trace Region, Mason, Bracken, Lewis, Fleming, Robertson and Adams counties fall below 20 restaurants per county: Brown County has 27 fast food restaurants.

-- Mason has 19; Fleming 5; Lewis 6; Bracken 2; Robertson 1; and Adams 20.

The Atlas documentation provides the following description of a "fast food" indicator:

-- The number of limited-service restaurants in the county. Limited-service restaurants include establishments primarily engaged in providing food services (except snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars) where patrons generally order or select items and pay before eating. Food and drink may be consumed on premises, taken out, or delivered to the customer's location. Some establishments in this industry may provide these food services in combination with alcoholic beverage sales.*

In comparison, the Atlas lists Mason County as having one of the highest number of fast food restaurants per 1,000 population in the state, falling in the range of 1.1 to 7.1 fast-food restaurants/1,000 population; Mason County's fast-food/1,000 population rating is 1.103. As of 2008, Mason County has a population of approximately 17,425 people.

Lewis, Bracken, Fleming and Robertson counties fell within the 0.063 to 0.50 range, with Lewis and Fleming counties have similar population levels as Mason County. Four other Kentucky counties fall into this category: Carroll, Martin, Simpson and McCracken counties. The metropolitan counties of Jefferson and Fayette fall into the 0.51 to 1.0 range of fast-food restaurants/1,000.

Brown and Adams counties fell into the 0.51 to 1.0 range in this indicator.

Looking randomly across the nation, California, Mississippi, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and New York have only one county with such a high ratio of fast-food restaurants to population; while Minnesota, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maryland have no counties that fall into the 1.0 to 7.1 range.

The location of the five Kentucky counties with this indicator border other states; as for Mason County, it serves as a regional hub for a seven-county area with an estimated population of 100,000, which could inflate the numbers and give substance as to why 19 fast-food restaurants are located in a county this size.

Whatever the case, the data provides something to chew on and food for thought about our eating habits.

*Restaurant data from the U.S. Census Bureau, County Business Patterns, 2007.

Information for this article gathered from the following Web sites: http://ers.usda.gov/foodatlas/about.htm and www.foodproductdesign.com.

Contact Marla Toncray at marla.toncray@lee.net or 606-564-9091 ext. 275.

For more area news, go to www.maysville-online.com.

Copyright 2015 Ledger Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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