In this second report in our two part series on challenges to healthy eating for kids, we explore how challenges to healthy eating for kids are connected to family variables and parents’ weight and nutrition. To learn more about these issues, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital teamed up with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) on the 2017-18 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr. We asked 1,002 Chicago parents and guardians (referred to here as parents) about challenges to healthy eating for their children. We also asked parents questions about their families and their own health and nutrition.
We examined the connection between living in a community area with limited food access and challenges to healthy eating for kids. We defined community areas as having limited food access if 10% or more of the residents were low income and lived more than a half mile from the nearest supermarket, supercenter or large grocery store, based on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) definition.
Our results also indicated that parents who live in community areas with limited food access were more likely to report challenges to healthy eating for their children. Four in ten parents in our survey lived in a community area with limited food access. Other research has shown that despite increases in the number of supermarkets in Chicago, food deserts still persist. Additionally, food access is also impacted by affordability. Our results indicated that having a household income below the federal poverty line was associated with experiencing more challenges to healthy eating for kids. When parents have a harder time accessing healthy foods, they also experience more challenges to healthy eating for their children.
In Chicago, WIC provides nutrition education and one-on-one counseling to families with children under 5 years old, as well as vouchers for whole grains, dairy, protein, fruit, and vegetables. Research suggests that participating in WIC has a positive impact on children’s nutrition. SNAP also provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of eligible families.
All Chicago Public School (CPS) students receive free breakfast, lunch, and after school meals during the school year with menus exceeding USDA nutrition standards. In over 215 sites, CPS Eat What You Grow Program teaches students how to harvest and serve school garden produce.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository, Healthy Student Markets partners with CPS and the City Colleges of Chicago to provide access to fresh fruits, vegetables and stable food items onsite to students and families.
Summer meals are provided across the city at Chicago Public Library, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools and other community sites to ensure that children have the same access to nutritious meals throughout the summer.
Among parents in our survey, 35% were at an unhealthy weight, 34% had excess weight, and 31% were normal or underweight, which is similar to obesity and overweight rates for U.S. adults. The majority of parents consumed between 1-4 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (60%), 32% consumed 5 or more fruits and vegetables daily, and only 8% consumed less than 1 fruit or vegetable daily. The majority of parents did not drink soda on a daily basis (73%).
Parents looking for healthy recipes to try can find suggestions from Chicago Parent magazine, which has a collection of 7 healthy family dinners and links to recipes. Additionally, the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov has tools to plan weekly meals and to create your own personalized food plan.
Parents who were at an unhealthy weight or had excess weight were more likely to report lots of challenges to healthy eating for their children (29% and 24%, respectively) than parents who were normal weight or below (21%). Additionally, parents who consumed 1-4 fruits and vegetables per day were more likely to report lots of challenges to healthy eating for their children (29%) than parents who consumed 5 or more fruits and vegetables daily (18%). Parents who drank soda on a daily basis were also more likely to report lots of challenges to healthy eating for their children (32%) than those who did not drink soda daily (23%).
These findings support the importance of the family environment to promote healthy eating in children.
Chicago City Markets take place in neighborhoods across the city with many markets serving communities with limited food access. City of Chicago-managed markets accept LINK/SNAP and provide LINK/SNAP double value coupon match up to $25.
Urban Growers Collective’s Fresh Moves Mobile Market uses converted Chicago Transit Authority’s buses as mobile farmers market bringing affordable produce to sites with limited food access. Fresh Moves accepts LINK, WIC and Senior Farmers Market vouchers.
Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Find Food locator tool allows families to find a food pantry, soup kitchen, mobile food distribution or shelter in Chicago. Parents and caregivers can find tips for healthy nutrition here. There are also local organizations such as EverThrive Illinois and Purple Asparagus that teach children and adults across Chicago about healthy nutrition and cooking. Another local organization, Gardeneers, works with Chicago-area schools to establish gardening education programs.