Food deserts in East Texas fuel obesity and diabetes crisis
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
Can school and community gardens help turn around the alarming health trends by focusing on nutrition education for youth and families?
East Texas is comprised of many rural, low-income counties with sprawling food deserts. This limited access to healthy food is reflected in the high prevalence of diabetes, hypertension and obesity. According to the State of Obesity, Texas has the 14th highest obesity rate in the US, with an adult average obesity rate of 33%, jumping to nearly half of adults ages 45-64. East Texas, particularly Rusk, Nacogdoches and Angelina counties are higher still, averaging an obesity level of 35-40% of all adults.
Type II diabetes often times accompanies obesity. Again, Nacogdoches and Angelina counties have high and rising rates of type II diabetes. Explore this CDC interactive map showing trends and risk factors.
One particular demographic that has been hard hit by these growing health trends is Texan youth. Nearly 20% of high school students in Texas are obese, and alarmingly, 80% of those students are projected to stay obese throughout their lifetimes—leading to possible chronic diseases and depression. 
The data makes sense when we know that for many low income students, school meals comprise the bulk of their daily diet. School meals like pop tarts and strawberry milk loaded with sugar, processed carbohydrates and hydrogenated oils SCREAM poor health and academic outcomes.
In addition to troubling health outcomes, our local Nacogdoches Independent School District struggles as well with low test scores. In order for multiple schools to stay accredited in recent years, the state was forced to intervene with action plans, consultants and policies to boost student test scores. Thankfully, our teachers and students rose to the challenge and many of our schools are back on track. It should be noted that nutrition and health play a role here as well. After all, our brain is an organ very much affected by what we eat and how we feel!
Nac Gardens is confident that school and community gardens play a vital role in addressing these health and academic challenges. Read my next post, School gardens bloom in Nac, to learn about the local school garden movement.
Not only is our community flourishing with success stories, in my next post I also link to state and national research indicating a powerful correlation between garden-based education and improved health/academic outcomes.
1. “Number of Americans with Diabetes Projected to Double or Triple by 2050.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Oct. 2010, www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r101022.html.
2. “Rankings.” County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/texas/2018/measure/factors/11/map.
3. “State Briefs.” The State of Obesity, stateofobesity.org/states/tx/.