North Long Beach Residents Struggle to Find Healthy Food

Jan. 10, 2013 / By

Text By CSULB Reporter Candace Manriquez, Video by CSULB Reporters Kim Norlund and Julian Cabrera

In any given direction from where Griselda Florinda Gomez lives on the west side of North Long Beach, there is a major grocery store within two miles. Despite this, Gomez finds it hard to access healthy, nutritious foods for herself and her children.

“I don’t have a car and all of the stores are too far to walk to,” Gomez says.

According to walkscore.com, Long Beach is the 11th most walkable city in the US, but the North Long Beach neighborhood ranks 37th out of the city’s 43 neighborhoods.

With three children under the age of six, Gomez says that the only way within reason to get to and from a traditional grocery store is by riding the bus, and doing so poses a financial burden.

“It’s kind of embarrassing but I can’t afford to spend four dollars or whatever it costs for all of us to ride the bus each way. That’s money that could be used to buy groceries,” she says.

So like many North Long Beach residents, Gomez alternates between fast food and buying cheap, processed foods at local convenient stores and bodegas.

In a typical day, Gomez’s five-year-old twins eat a sugary cereal for breakfast, fast food kid’s meals for lunch, Hamburger Helper for dinner, and candy as a snack.  Accompanied with soda and artificial juice drinks, the children eat nearly twice the 1,000 recommended calories set forth by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Statistics provided by Long Beach Unified School District show that 38 percent of fifth graders in North Long Beach were obese in 2009, which was the highest rate of obesity in the city for that age group. The Long Beach Post reports that 55 percent of all people over the age of 12 in North Long Beach are overweight or obese.

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According to the body mass index provided by the Center for Disease Control, Gomez’s children are not overweight or obese, but due to admitted excessive sugar consumption, they have had several cavities that have resulted in root canals that required general anesthesia.

These are only a couple of the major effects of eating poorly according to registered dietitian Terry Cooper.

“Just because a child is not overweight, does not make them immune to diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol,” Cooper says. “Plus, they will most likely end up being overweight adults if they keep with the same eating habits,” she says.

This is not news to Gomez who says she used to buy fruits such as bananas from a local Mexican market for 50 percent more than they cost at her local Trader Joe.

“I used to buy vegetables and fruit through WIC (Women, Infants, and Children food program), but my children won’t eat them.  I just end up throwing them out,” Gomez says.

Some believe that educating the public is simply not enough.

Emily Dingmann of the hunger fighting organization MAZON says that large grocery chains and urban transportation providers are also responsible in the food desert epidemic.

“Grocery stores have to be willing to build in poorer neighborhoods,” Dingmann said. “There are plenty of government food subsidy programs to ensure that stores will make money in these neighborhoods.  But if stores are not going to build, then local governments have the responsibility to get their residents to stores for low to no cost.”

Long Beach Transit does offer reduced or free fare rates to seniors, children under the age of four, Medicare recipients, and the disabled, but Dingmann says that they can do more.

“If a person is on food stamps, WIC, disability, or unemployment, there should be some way that their transportation is subsidized,” Dingmann said. “Once a person has to spend money that would have gone to food on the transportation that takes them to food, we have a problem.”

Representatives for North Long Beach have been taking strides to provide education and access to nutrition for residents.

In January of this year, Kaiser Permanente announced that they were granting North Long Beach $1 million for a three year investment in the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone program.

The program works in conjunction with the Coalition for a Healthy North Long Beach with an
aim to make healthy food choices and recreation accessible to those in the under-served neighborhood.

Through the HEAL Zone program, The Greener Good Farmer’s Markets were created.  One of the two markets is located in North Long Beach at the Atlantic & Artesia Intersection and operates every Wednesday from 3:00 pm to sunset.  Customers are able to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables as well as cooked foods, and are able to use their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.

While North Long Beach lags behind many neighborhoods in the city as it pertains to nutrition equity, education and access, the local government is aware of the disparity and is making efforts improve conditions.

For mor information about the connection of access to healthy food and healthy living, visit the following sites:

Childhood Obesity Prevention and Advocacy (COPA)

Long Beach Walkscore

North Long Beach Data Table

Healthy Living Map and Website

Long Beach Post Article

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VoiceWaves partners with the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) each semester to mentor students' community reporting. The Journalism 495 Enterprise Reporting in Diverse Communities course challenges students to build on their journalism skills covering various neighborhoods throughout Long Beach, including North Long Beach, Central Long Beach, Downtown, and the Westside.