May 16, 2012

Survey further links farmers markets and healthy eating

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Duke University Global Health Institute early last week released new forecasts on obesity in America, warning that nearly 42 percent of Americans may end up obese by 2030 (up from 36 percent in 2010), given current trends. The forecast sounded a resounding alarm about the nation’s health and cast a spotlight on the overabundance of environments that promote cheap junk food and fast-food options known to contribute to obesity.

In contrast, Kaiser Permanente has been a longstanding champion of making fresh, healthy produce available to its members and the communities it serves. One way it does this is by hosting farmers markets outside its hospitals and medical centers. Kaiser Permanente physician Preston Maring, MD, started the first Kaiser Permanente farmers market in 2003 at the Oakland (Calif.) Medical Center. Since then, the number of Kaiser Permanente markets has climbed to more than 45, with locations California, Hawaii, Oregon and Maryland.

In partnership with the Group Health Research Institute’s Center for Community Health and Evaluation, Kaiser Permanente conducted a cross-site survey of its farmers market patrons in 2010 to learn about the markets’ impact and how they could be improved. “Kaiser Permanente’s Farmers Market Program: Description, Impact, and Lessons Learned,” (pdf) an article recently published in the online, peer-reviewed Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (Vol. 2, Issue 2, Winter 2011/2012), describes the results of the survey.

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The survey sought to determine how the markets influenced patrons’ eating behavior and to identify their preferences for products and services that would encourage healthy eating. A total of 2,435 patron survey responses were received from the Kaiser Permanente sites that hosted markets in 2010.

The survey results suggest that convenience plays a role in whether people shop at the markets, since the majority of patrons are Kaiser Permanente physicians and staff, while a quarter of patrons are Kaiser Permanente members and community residents. Of those who responded to the survey, 74 percent reported that they consume more fruits and vegetables as a result of shopping at the market, and another 71 percent indicated that they were eating a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.

“The markets are making a difference and that’s good news,” says Loel Solomon, PhD, vice president of Community Health at Kaiser Permanente and co-author of the farmers market study. “This study shows the power of farmers markets in helping people eat healthier and expanding their palates — and sense of culinary adventure.”

As part of its mission and commitment to total health, Kaiser Permanente today launched a new weekly farmers market outside its company headquarters in Oakland, Calif. The new market is a further sign that Kaiser Permanente is committed to making sure that both its own workforce and the surrounding community are provided with options for making the healthy choice the easy choice.

“We are thrilled to join together with Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association and CIM Group to host this market,” says Dr. Maring. “We’ve seen overwhelming evidence that when people have access to farmers markets, they will take advantage of the market produce and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. It’s great for the health of the people who shop there and it provides support for local farmers to grow and sell sustainable produce.”

In addition to the farmers markets it hosts at its medical facilities, Kaiser Permanente funds several community-sponsored farmers markets in regions where it operates. The health care organization has been engaged in an aggressive effort to address food disparities across the country as part of its Community Health Initiatives for healthy eating and active living (HEAL). And this spring, Kaiser Permanente joined forces with the Institute of Medicine, the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and HBO (Home Box Office) to launch The Weight of the Nation, a comprehensive public awareness and engagement campaign designed to accelerate efforts to prevent and eliminate obesity across the United States.