Attendees of this year’s Nourish New Haven conference — a series of events exploring local nutrition issues — connected the dots between food justice, sustainability and community wellness in the Divinity School chapel Friday.
Both DataHaven Executive Director Mark Abraham ’04 and Alycia Santilli, deputy director of the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement at the Yale School of Public Health presented survey results on community health that their respective organizations collected last year. Abraham discussed the 2015 DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey, which gathers information on regional well-being and quality of life across the state of Connecticut and was completed in November. Santilli spoke on the New Haven Health Survey, a door-to-door canvass conducted by CARE which focused on economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, covering the neighborhoods of Dixwell, West River/Dwight, Fair Haven, Hill North, Newhallville and West Rock. Abraham and Santilli examined the interactions between food security, obesity and neighborhood safety.
“Each interview is like a story of someone’s life,” Abraham said of the DataHaven survey.
Though neither organization has revealed final reports on its data, both Abraham and Santilli tracked changes between data collected in last year’s surveys and data from previous years.
According to Abraham, the DataHaven survey took a sample of 16,219 randomly selected adults, aiming to create public information about community well-being and quality of life previously unmeasured at a local level. Abraham noted an increase in the prevalence of obesity in Connecticut between 1990 and 2015.
Santilli, also the chair of the New Haven Food Policy Council, said her triennial health survey has had a 70 percent participation rate across the three times it has been conducted in 2009, 2012 and 2015. The questions posed to survey participants touch on topics such as physical health, mental health, diet, exercise, smoking and neighborhood safety. Santilli added that CARE works on an accelerated timeline, collecting surveys in the fall of 2015 and releasing the results the following spring.
Of the 1,189 neighborhood residents interviewed by the 20 surveyors CARE trained, 65 percent were women and the average respondent was 42 years old. Sixty-three percent of the residents were black or African-American, 22 percent were Latino and/or Hispanic and 13 percent were white. Thirty-three percent of the interviewees had a household income less than or equal to $15,000, and across respondents, the unemployment rate was 23 percent.
Santilli focused on overweight and obesity rate differences by race in these six neighborhoods, noting that residents self-reported weight and height, from which a body mass index was calculated. According to Santilli, 45 percent of white respondents were considered overweight or obese, while 72 and 71 percent respectively of black and Hispanic respondents fell into the same category.
Santilli traced a decrease in food-insecure residents between 2012 and 2015, as well as an increase in residents who had health insurance. In 2015, 32 percent of residents surveyed had coverage from Access Health CT, the state’s official online marketplace for health insurance that launched in 2014.
CARE’s next steps, according to Santilli, include disseminating the results to neighborhood residents, generating ideas for action planning and mobilizing residents and CARE partners. CARE will hold a community forum on the survey results May 7.
Senior Lecturer at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Divinity School Mary Evelyn Tucker said, in response to the presentations, that the University “should be” doing work akin to that of DataHaven’s and CARE’s.
“The inequities of New Haven are the inequities of our country,” she said.
Conference attendees included community leaders like Project Longevity Project Manager Stacy Spell and Beverly Hills/Amity Alder Richard Furlow.
The conference continued on Saturday with panels entitled, “People Who Grow Food” and “People Who Organize Around Food,” Question and Answer sessions and group discussions.
The first Nourish New Haven conference was held in 2013.