Mecklenburg Food Assessment: Phase 2 Results

In 2010, a UNC Charlotte research team led by Dr. Elizabeth Racine conducted a Mecklenburg County Community Food Assessment for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council.  The results of Phase 1 of that study (posted on this website in September 2010) looked at the presence or absence of food stores in Mecklenburg’s Census Block Groups and the relationship of that availability to various health indicators.  That study identified multiple, low income areas that lack full service grocery stores.  Clustered largely along North Graham St. and West Blvd. in Charlotte, these food deserts’ lack of access to healthy foods was linked to increased rates of premature deaths from heart disease. 

The authors of the report have now released preliminary findings of Phase 2 of the research, focusing on the perception of food access among residents in these food deserts and an analysis of restaurants across all areas of Mecklenburg County.  Overall, the study found that residents of food deserts typically travel by car to multiple grocery or food stores to take advantage of sale prices.   Residents of these areas would also prefer to have access to affordable grocery stores nearer to home and they would like cooking classes to learn how to cook healthy, low cost, convenient meals. The restaurant analysis found that access to fast food restaurants does not vary by income or the percentage of black or white residents, but full service restaurants are more common in higher income areas.  Exposure to more restaurants, particularly fast food restaurants, was associated with premature death to heart disease and diabetes.  

Overall, the authors “suggest policy makers and stakeholders consider initiatives to further study the relationship between availability of restaurants and health, consider policies that encourage restaurants to post calories on menus and menu boards, consider the concentration of restaurants within a neighborhood when granting business permits, and implementing and evaluating cooking classes for the community.”

The Mecklenburg County Community Foods Assessment has generated much interest among the public, and in response to community interest in the recommendations found in both phases of the research, Marilyn Marks of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council is in the process of developing a resource guide that will list the wide variety of cooking classes available to local residents.  This work is part of Ms. Marks’ role as a community resident researcher for “Research on Food and Farming for All”, a statewide research project being conducted through UNC Chapel Hill’s Anthropology Department (http://roffa.web.unc.edu/). This research initiative focuses on the local food and farming system in North Carolina, with Charlotte serving as one of four sites across the state included in the study.   Together, the research at UNC Charlotte and UNC Chapel Hill is helping develop new understanding of local food systems.  According to Ms. Marks, “the Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council thinks these studies will help us better understand our food system, and look for ways to improve it.”

To read the Phase 2 executive summary.

-- John Chesser

Photgraphy by Nancy Pierce