Economic, cultural factors help to determine good health

Culturally, socially, financially we are different. The divisions are endless, and so are the factors contributing to healthy — as well as unhealthy — lifestyles.

Consider, to begin with, diabetes. This seventh-leading cause of death among Americans kills more people in San Joaquin County than in any other county in California. According to a 2005 California Health Interview survey, 70 percent of adults are overweight or obese and therefore are more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes. An estimated one out of three children born in the 2000s will suffer from this disease.

It all begins with awareness. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Due to limited access to knowledge, nearly nine out of 10 adults lack the skills needed to successfully manage their health and prevent illness.

A study by the University of California, Davis, finds that minimum-wage employees are more likely to be obese than those earning higher wages. “Our study clarifies a link that has been assumed but difficult to prove,” said Paul Leigh, senior author of the study and professor in the UC Davis Center for Healthcare Policy and Research. “The correlation … was very strong.” While California has the eighth-largest economy in the world, it also has the nation’s highest poverty rate. According to the Census Bureau, almost one-fourth of California’s population of 38 million lives below the poverty line. A 2014 American Community Survey found that 15 percent of people in San Joaquin County were unemployed, compared to less than 10 percent of the national population.

In addition, about one out of eight people in the county receive Food Stamp/SNAP benefits, with almost one out of five people living below the poverty level. Living in poverty makes it more difficult for working class parents to support and feed a family according to nutritional and dietary requirements.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that a family of four spend an average of $198 on food per week on a “low-cost plan.” Even with this suggested allowance, families can still struggle to meet nutritional needs because of other factors like easy access to grocery stores.

Most families in these situations rely on school meals to fill their children’s stomachs when dinner is not an option. According to 2014 data by California School Ratings, 63 percent of Stagg students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Since the majority of students qualify, Stagg is the one of the only high schools in Stockton Unified School District to have a free meals school-wide.

Making up nearly 40 percent of the San Joaquin County, Hispanics and Latinos also have one of the highest rates of diagnosed diabetes at 12.8 percent. According to 2014 California School Ratings, Hispanics and Latinos are also the predominant ethnic group at Stagg, at 54 percent, while whites, blacks, and Asians follow at 15, 14, and 9 percent, respectively. Some of the primary components of their diet include grains, beans, and red meats. However, while some aspects of this diet are not the most nutritional, such as their tendency to eat fewer vegetables than whites, the entirety of this cultural diet is not unhealthy. Hispanics and Latinos have a lower fat intake, according to Diet Health, Inc., eating less unhealthy fat and sugar such as candy than other ethnic groups and generally having higher intakes of fiber.

Discount food stores in recent times seem to be taking over Stockton as full service grocery stores are shutting down. As the graphic below suggests, 12 full-service grocery stores are within boundaries of Stagg’s attendance area along with seven discount stores. Some areas in Stockton have less easily-reachable grocery stores that provide options such as organic, cultural and vegan foods. With the growing vegetarian and vegan population, reaching 16 million Americans in 2014, the low supply of foods free of animal byproducts hinders non-meat eaters from receiving the nutrition needed to live a healthy lifestyle.

Stockton residents subject to this geography are then forced to rely on discount stores, which do not provide so big a selection and usually have less fresh produce. In addition, working parents who do not have the luxury of time or money to travel long distances to find a quality supermarket may even resort to buying fast food for dinner. In 2013, the San Joaquin County Community Health Assessment Collaborative identified a few of the top needs of the county: lack of health education, limited cultural competence in health fields, limited access to nutritious foods, and food security. This study demonstrates that these deficiencies are linked to obesity and diabetes.

Despite food insecurity, people still get by. With advancing technology and political reforms, society is looking forward to filled plates and full stomachs.