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Community Health Data Base
An Information Service of the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation

Nutrition Among Residents in Southeastern Pennsylvania
Thursday. September 5, 2013




Good nutrition is a critical component of leading a healthy lifestyle at all ages. When combined with physical activity, a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables can help in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight; reduce the risk for many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes; and promote overall health and well-being.[1] Proper nutrition among children supports optimal growth and development; prevents chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes; helps reduce the risk for developing obesity, osteoporosis, iron deficiency, and dental cavities; [2] aids in brain development and academic achievement; and encourages emotional feelings of wellness and helps prevent eating disorders.[3] Poor nutrition among older adults can exacerbate medical conditions and debilitation, decrease immune system functions, and lead to increased need for medical attention.


Using data from the Community Health Data Base’s 2012 Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) Household Health Survey, a telephone survey in more than 10,000 households in the SEPA region, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties, this brief examines nutrition habits, nutrition-related chronic illness, and access to healthy foods among children and adults in the SEPA region.        



Data Findings


Obesity and Chronic Disease


Overweight and obese adults and children are at greater risk for many major health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and joint pain. A healthy diet plays a critical role in helping to prevent these chronic diseases and conditions. Across the SEPA region:

·    35.1% of adults are overweight and 27.6% are obese, representing approximately 1,919,600 adults who are overweight or obese (Figure 1).

·    15.3% of children are overweight and 18.1% are obese, representing approximately 188,100 children with a weight problem.

·    12.4% of adults (approximately 392,300 individuals) have ever been diagnosed with diabetes, and 31.0% (about 975, 100 adults) have high blood pressure.

·    Within the region, Philadelphia County experiences the highest rates of both diabetes (16.0%) and high blood pressure (37.5%).



Food Consumption


Many Americans are not consuming sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables. Healthy People 2020 objectives for fruits and vegetables aim to increase to 75% the proportion of people age two and older who consume two or more servings of fruit daily and to 50% those who consume three or more servings of vegetables per day[4]. In the SEPA region, nearly one half of children consume fewer than three servings of fruits and vegetables per day (46.1%); the percentage of adults who consume fewer than three servings daily is even higher (52.7%) (Table 1).


More than two in five SEPA adult residents (42.1%) eat fast food one or more times per week, and 7.4% consume fast food three or more times per week. Philadelphia residents were also asked about their consumption of soda and sugared beverages: 29.0% of adults and 25.0% of children did not consume any soda, fruit juice, or bottled teas in the past month, but 35.4% of adults and 42.1% of children drank a sugared beverage one or more times per day.



Access to Healthy Foods


In many cases, one of the causes for poor nutrition is difficulty accessing and affording healthy foods. Many adults in SEPA face challenges in accessing in healthy foods. Cost of food and the availability of fresh foods in some neighborhoods in SEPA can be limiting:

·    5.2% of adults in SEPA report that it is difficult or very difficult to find fruit in their neighborhoods.

·    3.2% of SEPA adults describe the quality of groceries in their neighborhood as poor, or that there are no grocery stores at all in their neighborhood.

·    In Philadelphia County, nearly one in ten (9.4%) report difficulty in finding fruit. Residents of Philadelphia County also report lowest satisfaction with local groceries, with 5.4% describing these stores as “poor.”

·    More than 419,000 adults (13.6%) are enrolled in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).


In addition, one in eight SEPA adults report cutting a meal (12.3%) in the past year. Not surprisingly, adults living below the poverty line in our region are much more likely to report cutting a meal (35.5%) in the past year, compared to those living above poverty guidelines (9.4%).





Many children and adults in SEPA are suffering from a lack of good nutrition.  Without a healthy diet and a lack of physical activity, obesity and other chronic diseases will continue to increase.  In SEPA, the cost of food and the availability of fresh foods in some neighborhoods can be limiting. In addition, some geographic areas such as Philadelphia county, face more difficulty in obtaining the foods that they need to be healthy.  Increasing access to healthy foods and nutrition education are critical to improving the health and wellbeing of SEPA residents. 


For more information about these findings, please contact Amy Clark at


To download this article in as a PDF, click here.  To read more about our previous data, please click here.




[4] United States Department of Health and Human Services, Healthy People 2020. (2011, June 29).

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