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.”