Isla Vista is a place of surprises. Every time you turn around, there is someone doing something incredible (or incredibly stupid). However, I was truly blindsided by some information I recently received about our local community. The number of people, especially children, living in the area without access to healthy and affordable nutritional options is shocking and has to change.
Isla Vista Fails the Test: Rosalinda Figueroa, a health education associate with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, shared a survey with a group of parents from Isla Vista Elementary School a few weeks ago. She said that an audit done by the Santa Barbara Public Health Department in 2012 found that 73 percent of local inhabitants (excluding students) live below the federal poverty level and do not have ready access to healthy foods.
According to the Santa Barbara Health Department’s 2012 survey, this is how Isla Vista fared:
· Percent of the population living within a half mile of a supermarket or large grocery store: 0
· Supermarkets or large grocery stores easily accessible through public transit: 0
· Farmers markets: 0
· Small markets and other food stores: 3
· Fast food outlets: 27
· Ratio of fast-food outlets to population: 1:548
In 2008, this same survey was done and found that 84 percent of the population living in poverty, the same number of small markets and other food stores, and 19 fast food outlets. An additional eight fast food restaurants have opened up in the Isla Vista area in the last four years, without a comparable increase in markets offering fresh fruits and vegetables.
Transportation Is Key: While it may seem like there are myriad ways for locals to get their daily dose of fruits and vegetables, this is not the case. Many people in the area don’t have access to a car. Just imagine taking a bus with your children and groceries. Now, imagine that buses run on a schedule tailored to the needs of college students. For this reason, a trip to Albertsons might be a once-a-week experience. The local Farmers Market at Camino Real Marketplace might be untenable for the same reason. These obstacles make it more difficult for local children to get their daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The 2012 survey not only looked at the number of places selling healthy foods that were easily accessible but at whether these items were affordable. In 2012, there were no local stores were that matched the Santa Barbara County Health Department’s criteria. In 2008, there was one market that met this standard.
What Has to Happen: Figueroa said it is imperative that people in the Isla Vista community have easier access to fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices. With 54.3 percent of the adults in Santa Barbara County identified as overweight or obese, this is an issue that local officials can’t ignore. Figueroa pointed to a growing incidence of a drug-resistant strain of diabetes in children as an indication of the magnitude of this problem.
The county’s goal is “to empower communities to work together to improve their neighborhoods to become healthier places to live, work, and play.” The survey data is a way to drive community members to partner with transportation representatives, supermarkets, and farmers market organizations to start discussing options.
None of this is exactly new news to local officials. The problem is long-standing, and it needs to be at the forefront of discussions about Isla Vista. With more focus on this issue, there may be a way to ensure that Isla Vista gets a passing grade on the next healthy food test.