Napa County Public Health workers see a side of Napa that most tourists — and even some residents — do not.

The Public Health Division works with low-income families — mainly mothers and young children who need access to food stamps, the local food bank, Medi-Cal, health care and other safety net services.

Napa County has many wealthy residents, but people might be surprised to know the degree of poverty that exists in some neighborhoods, said Marquita Marquis, Napa County Public Health manager.

Between July 2011 and June 2012, 137 family cases were opened in the county’s Maternal, Child & Adolescent Health program, which provides nurses from the Public Health Division to visit the homes of low-income mothers in need of assistance, Marquis said.

Approximately 9 percent of the county’s population lives in poverty. Compounding the situation for many low-income families is Napa’s high cost of living.

A single mom with one preschooler and one school-aged child would need to make at least $61,049 a year to be self-sufficient in Napa County, according to 2011 data from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. That’s equivalent to working a 40-hour week earning $28.91 an hour. Even if a single mom worked three full-time minimum-wage jobs at $8 an hour, she would fall more than $10,000 short of the Napa County self-sufficiency standard.

The self-sufficiency standard measures the actual cost of living for each individual county in the state. The standard accounts for local costs associated with housing, food, health care, transportation, child care and taxes, as well as miscellaneous spending.

In Napa County, a little more than 37 percent of adults are considered “food insecure” — meaning they cannot afford adequate nutritious food. Napa County’s food insecurity rate is higher than the state average of 34.8 percent, according to 2010 data from the California Food Policy Advocates.

“A good number of Napa County residents, including children, are going hungry; missing at least a meal a day,” Marquis said, adding that high-calorie food is “cheap and plentiful” in most communities, while low-calorie, nutrient-rich food is harder to come by.

As a result, poverty in the U.S. tends to foster obesity rather than starvation, she said.

“Many overweight or obese children and adults have low self-esteem, less confidence and may not reach their potential academically, through their employment, or be able to do the leisure time activities they might enjoy at a more optimum weight,” Marquis said. “Stress becomes a constant companion.”

While most Napa neighborhoods are within close distance of a full-service grocery store, not all of those stores are considered affordable. In some neighborhoods — Westwood and pockets of Alta Heights, specifically — smaller neighborhood markets are sometimes more accessible for low-income residents, Marquis said. These smaller stores are often cheaper but have a limited variety of foods — especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables.

The cost of fresh fruits and vegetables is “really out of reach” for people who are on extremely limited incomes, said Kathy DiMaggio, director of health education at Community Health Clinic Ole. To save money, DiMaggio recommends that people buy produce that has been frozen or canned. The nutrients are still present — even in the canned varieties, she said.

Nutrition during childhood affects learning, growth and development, which ultimately will impact educational success, job prospects and future behavior, Marquis said.

Obese children are more likely to become obese adults, putting them at an increased risk of developing certain health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes.

“We’re seeing tons and tons of patients with diabetes at younger and younger ages,” DiMaggio said.

Children who are overweight and have genetic risk factors for developing diabetes are typically testing as pre-diabetic for Type 2 diabetes between the ages of 13 and 18, DiMaggio said.

Pre-diabetes is often reversible if children are able to change their exercise and eating habits — but without making lifestyle changes, a child will likely develop full-blown Type 2 diabetes within four to five years, DiMaggio said. And the earlier that Type 2 diabetes develops, the sooner a person will be at risk of diabetes-related complications.

“That’s the saddest part of the whole thing,” DiMaggio said, “when we’re working with those children.”

(13) comments


I don't think nutritious food is more expensive and harder to come by - plain oatmeal, dried beans, bananas - all very nutritious and cheap. The problems are 1) these foods generally take more effort to prepare and 2) they are less appealing. Maybe education is the key. I feel bad for these low-income folks, but if you're obese, you are not truly hungry and your food money is being misspent - period.

Lynn W

A bag of beans, apples, oranges, carrots, potatoes, stalks of celery, lettuce, zucchini, and bananas are more expensive than chips and pastries? Are we price checking at 7-11and gas station markets? I see the obesity problem and I understand it when I see a grocery cart filled with processed foods and the lunches that get opened up at schools. What I don't get is the lack of responsibility for what goes into your body.


Who says price checking can't be done anywhere? People shop where they want to shop. Or, are we now supposed to shop only in leberal democrat government approved markets?


Why would a single mother making minimum wage have two children?

The question the welfare people should be asking (demanding) is "where is the father"?


Actually Kevin, I agree with you here.


I am curious as to what the people who are reporting this situation would have us do to remedy it. I see plenty of families with a cart full of potato chips, cookies and sugary cereals but no applesauce or canned vegetables. I go to the local laundromat and see the children eating nothing but sugary snacks while waiting with mom and dad for the drying to be done. Bulk bags of apples and oranges are NOT expensive when you compare them to a big bag of chips. Do they need additional nutritional education? I know this will sound bad, but EVERYONE cannot make over $25 an hour. I have worked in the same industry for 30 years and fairly recently have acquired this level of compensation. How are we to get this kind of money into the hands of folks who have only a basic education and a limited skill set? Food stamps, subsidized housing, subsidized health care, subsidized child care is still not enough?


St. John's Lutheran has a mission farm that provides in-season fresh fruits and vegetables for the Napa Food Bank


Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers are responsible for the outrageous prices of produce. Unions destroy every industry they invade. Before Chavez you could buy an apple in the grocery store to 10 cents. The irony is that all the liberals quoted in this story are ignorant of the economics of food production.


And there is no way you or most of the rest of America would or will work for wages so low that you could have your cheap produce. It's a more complicated scenario than just unions and "liberals".

Increased population all over the planet competing for the same food has increased prices as has the dependence on expensive fertilizers and well as fuel and water demands of big agribusiness. You may think slave labor is exciting, but most of the world disagrees.

On the other hand you guys complain about illegal immigrants, yet American farmers and other business people (generally conservatives) are the ones who were more than willing to keep the door wide open so you could have your cheap labor as you fought and stalled against any kind of well organized immigration or migrant work system.

You're hypocrites...go blame some other group. You always do.


To MW - your response is reminiscent of Bolshevism. Its goal was to attack everything that is appeal to the low information voter...the graduate of today's public schools...funded by Obama dollars and their snares. I fear for the America that you and your ilk have created.


Really - "your ilk"? Remember what happened when conservatives started screaming about all the illegals here and they wanted the border shut down. The price of food went through the roof because farmers couldn't get the labor they needed to pick the crops. Now how is Chavez and the unions at fault for that? You can't have it both ways. It's more complicated than a simplistic anti-liberal/union/socialism rant. Keep on blaming everyone but yourselves.




Napa needs something such as "Larry's Produce", or "Berkeley Bowl" to provide fresh
vegetables and fruit at low cost

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