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La Crosse’s ‘food desert’ brought to light in WMJ

Release Date: August 14, 2014
Contact: Jennifer Wieman - 608.442.3765 jennifer.wieman@wismed.org

La Crosse (August 14, 2014) – More than 5,000 La Crosse residents are living in a five census-block “food desert,” as identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to research published in the August issue of WMJ (vol. 113, no. 4), food insecurity exists in 33.9 percent of households in that area. The study also examined the prevalence and predictors of food insecurity in La Crosse’s food desert.

“Living in a neighborhood with poor access to healthy food—a food desert—can significantly increase the risk of food insecurity,” the authors wrote. “Severe food insecurity may have a significant negative effect on health.”

A survey of 2,068 eligible La Crosse households showed that 14.6 percent were food insecure with hunger—the most severe level of food insecurity. More than 33 percent showed some level of food insecurity, while the percentage of those that were food insecure without hunger was 19.3 percent. The estimated food insecurity statewide is 11.3 percent, according to the research.

Analysis of the data produced six variables to predict severe food insecurity: not having enough money, not having a way to get to the store, the perceived cost of healthy foods, renting versus home ownership, health insurance and a person’s smoking habits. The most significant barrier was not having enough money, with more than 27 percent reporting that they did not have access to a working vehicle and more than 39 percent seeing the cost of healthy food as a significant barrier. A renter was 5.2 times more likely to be food insecure than a home owner, and according to the study, more than two-thirds of the households surveyed were renters. Interestingly, while 62 percent had an annual income of $25,000 or less, nearly half had private health insurance. Alternatively, those who had Medicaid as their health insurance were 3.5 times more likely to have severe food insecurity, and smokers were 3.6 times more likely to be food insecure than nonsmokers.

The spending habits of the surveyed households also revealed a trend toward food insecurity. More than 30 percent of daily smokers and 28.3 percent of occasional smokers had severe food insecurity. Those without access to a computer or the Internet also had higher food insecurity, as well as people with cell phones with texting capability. However, many of those who did not have a cell phone – age 65 and older – had a lower rate of food insecurity.

“Finding solutions for populations to have better access to healthy, nutritious food will involve multiple community members and organizations, including health care systems,” the authors wrote.

Published by the Wisconsin Medical Society, WMJ is devoted to the interests of the medical profession and health care in the Midwest. This peer-reviewed publication, which is available in print and electronic format, is one of the few state medical society-sponsored medical journals that publish a large amount of original research and academic content.

All articles published in WMJ represent the views of the authors, for which neither WMJ nor the Wisconsin Medical Society take responsibility, unless clearly stated.