diet-related health and food access in Maricopa county

Food connects us all, and our food choices each day affect our health today, tomorrow, and in the future. Eating healthy is vital to good health and well-being.

Food choice is influenced by a number of factors including culture, income, education, and the availability and affordability of healthy foods where we live, learn, work, and play.

This page explores the state of diet-related health, food access, and food insecurity in Maricopa County, Arizona. Scroll down to learn more about our fruit and vegetable consumption, chronic disease rates, SNAP participation, and much more. When available, county and city-level data are presented.

Healthy bodies and minds require nutritious meals at every age.

ā€”Feeding America Map the Meal Gap

diet-related health  

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help prevent a number of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity. Despite these overwhelming health benefits, most Americans (including Arizonans) aren't getting enough. 

The graphics below represent the percentages of Arizonans who consume fruits and vegetables less than once per day. Most adults in Arizona consume vegetables 1.7 times per day, and fruit 1 time per day. Experts recommend that we consume 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

These facts are true of all adults - regardless of whether or not they participate in food assistance programs (i.e., SNAP, WIC, FMNP). 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Source: Arizona Department of Health Services, 2018

The graphs below compare city-level health outcomes for the ten Maricopa County cities included in the CDC's "500 Cities Project."  This project reports high quality, small-area chronic disease data for the 500 largest American cities, and is the first data of its kind to be released on a large scale for cities and census tracts. The data can be used by cities and stakeholders to improve population health by identifying emerging health problems, informing the development of prevention activities, and establishing and monitoring key health objectives. 

Among the ten cities, Avondale, Phoenix, and Glendale have the highest rates of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary heart disease among adults >18 years of age, while Scottsdale and Gilbert have the lowest rates of these same conditions. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Source: CDC 500 Cities, 2017 

As seen in the charts below, diet-related illness and disease such as Diabetes and Heart Disease are both increasing over time for nearly all races in Maricopa County. Although diet-related illness and disease affect everybody, cardiovascular-related emergency department (ED) admission rates are highest among Black Americans, and diabetes-related ED rates are highest among American Indians and Black Americans. 

Maricopa County residents are getting sicker with time, but both of these diseases can be better controlled or even prevented through good nutrition and physical activity. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                               Source: Maricopa County CHNA, 2016

food insecurity

Food insecurity may be long-term or temporary, and doesn't occur in isolation. Food insecure households often need to make trade-offs with their resources to meet important basic needs, such as housing and medicine, and purchasing nutritious food. 

Poverty is a major root cause of food insecurity. In Maricopa County, certain populations experience it more than others. One reason that young adults and young children have the highest rates of poverty may be that young families are especially vulnerable. This is also evidenced by the county's high rates of childhood food insecurity. 

In Maricopa County, 1 in 5 children experience limited or uncertain availability of nutritious, culturally appropriate, or safe foods. 

In 2016, there were 585,330 Maricopa County residents who were food-insecure. This is 14.3% of the entire county. 

                                                                            Source: Feeding America, 2018

When asked if they are able to pay for essentials - including food, clothing, and housing - nearly half of all Maricopa County residents reported that they sometimes or never have enough money for these things.

                                                                   Source: Maricopa County CHNA, 2016

Food insecurity rates spiked after the Great Recession in 2008. Since then, they've declined at all levels, but still remain higher than prerecession rates.

Household food insecurity rates in Maricopa County and Arizona exceed national averages. Higher rates of food insecurity are reported in households with children, those with a single parent, African-American and Hispanic households and low-income households. Rates are also higher in urban and rural areas compared to suburban areas. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Source: Feeding America, 2018

Healthy food access

Access to healthy food is a critical part of a healthy, thriving community. Limited access to supermarkets, grocery stores, or other sources of healthy and affordable food may negatively affect diet, food security, and health. 

There are various ways to measure food access. The most common way looks at low-income census tracts where a significant proportion of the population lives more than one mile from the nearest grocery store (for an urban area), or more than ten miles (for a rural area). Household vehicle availability is another significant indicator of access.

Studies have found that accessing healthy, affordable food is especially challenging for people living in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and rural and tribal areas. 

                                             Source: USDA Economic Research Service, 2017 

According to the USDA, "food access is about more than just whether there are grocery stores in a community. It also has to with whether households can afford to purchase food - and affordability is closely related to rates of employment and job quality."

Findings from in-depth studies on food insecurity and access in local communities are consistent with national research:

- Income and cost are often identified by Maricopa County residents as significant barriers to eating healthy foods. 

- Time to shop and prepare foods, as well as the perishable nature of fresh foods are also frequently mentioned. 

- Lack of reliable transportation (public or private) has been identified as another significant barrier to accessing healthy food retailers, especially for low-income families, the elderly, and others with mobility challenges. 

- In communities lacking a supermarket, healthy foods were found to be more expensive in smaller stores as compared to the same items in supermarkets. These items were also more expensive than less-healthy options. 

Sources: 2016 CHNA, ReinventPHX Solano, Gateway, Eastlake-Garfield Community Food Resources Report: Central City South and Maryvale Nutrition Environment Measures Surveys

Although Arizona rates exceed national averages, the percentage of census tracts classified as low-income and low-access decreased from 2015 to 2017 both in Arizona and across the entire U.S.  

                                              Source: USDA Economic Research Service, 2017

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federal nutrition assistance program. It plays a critical role in helping eligible low-income families break out of the cycle of hunger, food insecurity, and diet-related disease.  In 2016, over 300,000 households (13% of total households) in Arizona received SNAP. Over half of those households were from Maricopa County. 

Click on the button below to learn about the organizational food access and hunger relief efforts in the region including what they do, where they work, who they reach, and some recommendations for the Coalition.