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National Nutrition Month highlights Pierce County’s food challenges

March 20, 2013

2013 County Health Rankings show need for better access

TACOMA, Wash.  -  During National Nutrition Month this March - and every month - access to healthy foods remains a challenge for Pierce County.

According to the 2013 County Health Rankings released today, Pierce County is in the bottom third of the state - 27 out of 39 - in the physical environment category that includes access to healthy foods among low-income residents.

“The County Health Rankings demonstrate why efforts such as our Community Transformation Partnership (CTP) are so critical to improving the health of our county,” said Frank DiBiase, assistant division director of the Environmental Health Division. “CTP aims to break down barriers to better health by making improvements to where we live, learn, work and play,” he said.

Overall, Pierce County ranked 26 out of 39 counties in the 2013 County Health Rankings. Factors that contributed to this low score include:

  • Morbidity (i.e., poor physical health days and poor mental health days); and
  • Physical environment (i.e., limited access to recreational facilities, limited access to healthy foods, percent of restaurants that are fast food and air quality).

“Along with our community partners, we have critical work to do to increase access to healthy foods, recreation, healthy housing, and more, so we can help prevent health problems related to obesity and chronic disease,” said DiBiase.

Pierce County has worse access to healthy foods among low-income residents compared to the Washington state average. According to the 2013 County Health Rankings, eight percent of Pierce County low-income adults have limited access to healthy foods compared to five percent overall statewide.

According to the rankings, limited access to healthy foods measures the proportion of the population who are both living in poverty and do not live close to a grocery store. Living close to a grocery store means living less than one mile from a grocery store.

And, adult obesity continues to climb in Pierce County and continues to be worse than the state average. The 2013 County Health Rankings show that 31 percent of Pierce County adults are obese, higher than the statewide average of 27 percent.

These are not new challenges for Pierce County. The county has been near the bottom third of the rankings since the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation first began the effort in 2010. For more information on the County Health Rankings and other Pierce County health-related data, see

Because of these and other countywide health challenges, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded nearly $800,000 per year for up to five years to the health department for its work with CTP. This is the second year of the grant program.

Over the past year, the Partnership has worked with organizations and businesses including Clover Park School District, MultiCare, and Metro Parks to increase access to healthy food options. In January 2013, CTP partner, Healthy Communities of Pierce County, convened over 200 community partners at the South Sound Food Summit to discuss building a healthier food system in Pierce County and our region.

Here are a few of the ways the Health Department works with our community to promote healthy choices:

Live: Healthy foods are especially important for pregnant women, babies, and kids. The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program has locations throughout Pierce County and is enrolling new clients. WIC provides checks for healthy foods, and offers health screenings, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and more. It’s easy to sign up and new clients can receive a check the same day. Women and children receive checks for nutritious foods like milk, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, cereal, juice, whole grains (bread, tortillas, rice), eggs, and peanut butter or beans, infant food and infant cereal and iron-fortified formula. For more information on Maternal Child Health and to find a WIC site near you, go to

Learn: Healthy students are better learners and have fewer absences. From working with school nutrition directors on healthier menus to providing funding and technical assistance as part of our Healthy Schools Grant Program, the Health Department partners with Pierce County schools and districts to increase students’ access to healthy foods. Interested in making your child’s school healthier? Ask the school administration to consider implementing a healthy celebration policy. Imagine students being rewarded with an extra recess instead of a pizza party. Learn more at Oral health is another critical aspect of learning readiness, as oral health issues can contribute to school absences. Learn more at

Work: The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is partnering with employers who want to give their staff access to healthier choices during the workday. Whether it’s serving nutritious foods at meetings or adding healthier options to vending machines, a healthier workplace leads to happier, more productive employees. To learn more or request a worksite wellness assessment at your organization, visit

Play: The Community Transformation Partnership (CTP) is a coalition of five community organizations, the Health Department, and local leaders working to make Pierce County a healthier community. In January 2012, CTP partner, YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap County, established healthy food policies so youth and adults who play hard at the YMCA can refuel with healthy snacks. Learn more about the Partnership’s work and how you can get involved at

Access to facilities such as the YMCA, and other recreational facilities, is also an important challenge for our community. According to the County Health Rankings, Pierce County has worse access to recreational facilities compared to the statewide average. Eight per 100,000 residents have access compared to 11 per 100,000 residents statewide.

Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager, (253) 798-2853, (253) 405-6822,
Frank DiBiase, Assistant Division Director, (253) 798-7674,

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to safeguard and enhance the health of the communities of Pierce County. As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health.

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