Members of a task force assembled to examine access and barriers to healthy food in Muskogee will present their findings and recommendations on Tuesday to city councilors.
Doug Walton of the Muskogee County Health Department described the results of a nearly yearlong review as a “great start” in addressing food insecurity and healthy eating. The examination included an informal survey of about 700 people representing a socioeconomic cross-section of Muskogee residents.
“It’s kind of like anything: The more you find out, the more you learn you don’t know,” said Walton, an advocate for wellness policies. “But it is a great start. I think we have a better understanding about some of the barriers in Muskogee to healthy food access and consumption of healthy foods.”
A key finding that seemed “to resonate throughout the survey results” was the fact that 35 percent of the respondents experienced “trouble getting and eating enough healthy food” either occasionally or always. Almost 30 percent had cut meal sizes or skipped meals at least on occasion and sometimes always.
An executive summary of the task force’s findings indicate “transportation is not a barrier to grocery store access for many people in Muskogee. However, more than half of those who rely on public transportation “sometimes or always” experienced difficulty “getting and eating enough healthy food.”
The task force survey shows the affordability of healthy food creates a barrier for area residents even when distance and transportation pose no significant barrier. Just more than one-fourth of those polled expressed difficulty finding healthy foods where they shop, and more than one-third said having access to to a “better variety or quality” foods “where they shop would help them eat more healthy foods.”
Some of the recommendations identified in the executive summary include:
• Adjust fixed-transit routes to accommodate residents’ needs for convenient grocery access.
• Strengthen the community gardening program, which was recognized in 2013 by the OK Public Health Leadership Institute as one of the most successful in the state.
• Expand the availability of Veggie Bucks or similar coupons that can be used toward the purchase of produce at Muskogee Farmers Market and local grocers.
• Promote and support the efforts of local food pantries.
• Ensure the zoning code and permit requirements create no barriers to the development of healthy corner stores.
• Review access to grocery stores by pedestrians and bicycle riders.
• Authorize the task force to continue its work and coordinate the implementation of the recommendations.
“There are things where we we need to dig deeper, but we have a general sense of what the issues are and where we can start,” Walton said. “Even if all of these happen, it is not going to be a done deal and fix the problem. It is just a part of getting things moving in a better direction … when it comes to access to healthy foods.”
Formation of the task force was prompted by a review of data provided by the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma, which oversaw the development of a downtown revitalization plan. The Muskogee Wellness Initiative provided operational support for task force members.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901, @dsmootMPhx or firstname.lastname@example.org.