Food Swamp: How Portsmouth plans on building healthier city


By Patrick Keck - pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com



The prevalence of fast food restaurants in Scioto County, like this McDonald’s off of State Route 23, while healthier options are less abundant perhaps play a role in the above averages of obesity in local areas. Photo by Patrick Keck.

The prevalence of fast food restaurants in Scioto County, like this McDonald’s off of State Route 23, while healthier options are less abundant perhaps play a role in the above averages of obesity in local areas. Photo by Patrick Keck.


SCIOTO — There isn’t a shortage of options for residents and visitors of Scioto County looking for a bite to eat.

With multiple groceries and a variety of local restaurants and chain locations, the problem local health officials say comes down to the health benefits of these options. The term that best fits the ongoing situation Portsmouth City Health Department Prevention Director Wirty Penix says is a “food swamp,” where the prevalence of fast foods significantly outweighs healthier food options.

“We have ready access to a lot of food, but there’s fast food on every corner,” he said, starting this new role at the beginning of March. “Throughout the county, I think we have three McDonald’s, three Wendy’s, and soon to be a fourth Taco Bell.”

Among its “Areas of Opportunity” in the most recent community health needs assessment, PCHD identified diabetes, nutrition, physical activity, and weight as pressing items that required improvement.

The 2018 document, encompassing a seven-county area, found local measures of fruit and vegetable consumption under the national average, while childhood and adulthood obesity was above the national measures. Of the 800 randomly surveyed, the report had the following findings:

  • 26.5% of respondents were eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, lower than the U.S. average of 33.5%. The measure had improved from 21.8% in 2015, yet worsened from the 31.7% 2012 measure.
  • The adult obesity measure was 47%, holding consistent with 2015 but much higher than 2012’s 35.4. The U.S. average is and PCHD would like to see the value decrease by 5%.
  • Nearly 80% of adults and 43% of children were overweight. PCHD would like to decrease the adulthood statistic by 2% and the childhood one by 5%.
  • Childhood obesity was better than the adult measure, coming in at 23.9%, but worse than the U.S. average of 20%. A decrease of 3% is PCHD’s goal.

With families taking on multiple jobs to make ends meet, Penix said having the time to learn how to cook is a key factor in another challenge for health departments to pay attention toward. The ability and know-how of cooking is a luxury for many working families, one that he is thankful for learning through his mother.

“I think a lot of quick meals and convenient options are unfortunately what’s on the menu because it’s the time they had,” Penix said. “Personally, I love to cook but it can be time-consuming.”

That lack of time was less than 32% of survey respondents reported no leisure time for physical activity in the past month, which means many are going without PCHD’s recommendation of 30 to 60 minutes of daily activity.

Penix has been encouraged by the number of CrossFit gyms that have popped up in the number over the past few years, but is looking at other ways to reach out to families for different forms of exercise.

“I want to promote ways you can do this at your home and on your own time,” he said, currently devising a plan that could work around people’s busy schedules. “A big part of what I want to do is educate people on how they can do things on their own.”

Further contributing to the status, 30% of respondents said they found it difficult to find fresh produce nearby down from that national average of 22%. When they do find healthier items, Penix said the higher prices can discourage or prevent a customer from purchasing them.

Expenses of these items should be thought of on a long-term basis, he feels, where the opposite has pushed many to get fast food instead of stocking their pantries.

“Every fast food restaurant has a value menu and you can get a lot of stuff for $10, but that lot of stuff generally one takes up a meal,” Penix said. Spending $12 at Kroger turned out in him getting more meals for his family.

His grocery list, using that $12 was as followed:

  • Family pack of chicken thighs
  • 1/2 gallon of milk
  • Bag of russet potatoes
  • Five cans of green cans

“We feed a family of four on $12 for multiple meals,” Penix said, including his wife and two daughters. “A lot of people just don’t understand that and, even if it’s not an understanding issue, I think a lot of people maybe don’t have the time.”

The prevalence of fast food restaurants in Scioto County, like this McDonald’s off of State Route 23, while healthier options are less abundant perhaps play a role in the above averages of obesity in local areas. Photo by Patrick Keck.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2021/03/web1_DSC_1628.jpgThe prevalence of fast food restaurants in Scioto County, like this McDonald’s off of State Route 23, while healthier options are less abundant perhaps play a role in the above averages of obesity in local areas. Photo by Patrick Keck.

By Patrick Keck

pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com

Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.

© 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.

Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.

© 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.