Douglas County residents, healthcare professionals and students came together at the annual Omaha Health Summit held at Creighton Friday for discussions and activities designed to impact the health of the community.
The event’s theme was “change-makers” – focusing on the connection between health and living conditions influencing well-being, according to the Omaha Health Summit’s press release.
Despite making significant progress in the last 20 years, health disparities persist in Douglas County.
A few of the health disparities identified relate to food accessibility. Seventeen percent of Douglas County residents find it difficult to buy affordable fresh produce while 23 percent worry about food running out before having money to buy more.
These identified health disparities not only effect households in Douglas County, but can be seen on University of Nebraska at Omaha’s campus as well, since finding affordable fresh produce can be difficult on a college student’s budget.
Students have several healthy food options conveniently located on campus.
The Milo Bail Student Center food court includes healthy options, such as Greenfield’s Vegan and Vegetarian and a build-your-own salad bar.
Jasmine’s, which focuses on oriental cuisine, also offers healthier options such as gluten-free organic noodles and a wide variety of protein and vegetables.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, salads, sushi and smoothies are available in many dining locations around campus.
Many students who live on-campus have full kitchens, which make it easier and cheaper to prepare more nutritious meals.
UNO sophomore Olivia Reed lives in Maverick Village and enjoys cooking. After learning about the treatment of animals and environmental factors that go into processing meat, she chose to become a vegetarian.
“It is hard, because I didn’t stop eating meat because I don’t like the taste of it. I really like chicken,” Reed said. “My mom’s a vegetarian so that helps a lot. It’s difficult sometimes to get enough protein but I’m still learning.”
Relying primarily on fruits, vegetables, grains and soy-based products would be challenging for anyone, especially for college students who often base their diets around cheap pizza, ramen and quick microwavable meals.
Reed recommends students buy healthier groceries and do meal preparation, which is planning and putting together all of your meals for the week using the correct portion sizes and then refrigerating or freezing them for later use.
She also suggests students create snack mixes to put in their back-packs to avoid going hungry between classes.
Marcia Adler, the director of health services at UNO, believes that self-discipline plays a large role in healthy eating.
“Every restaurant has healthy options,” Adler said. “I can go to McDonald’s and pick apple wedges, but that means I have to care enough about my long-term health, not just today’s health, to make a good decision.”
Unfortunately, healthy food is very costly compared to less nutritious choices. Those in poverty often have no other option but to purchase unhealthy foods because that’s all their budget allows.
As a result, the potential for health problems and obesity rises.
“In a grocery store, a donut is cheaper than an orange,” Adler said. “There should be no comparison. If it were up to me, we’d make healthy food cheap and junk food expensive.”
With UNO being a metropolitan university, Adler has seen food problems across campus first hand. Without food, it’s incredibly hard to do much of anything, let alone focus on academics.
Three years ago, concerned UNO faculty and staff came together to discuss the hunger problems some students face. From that conversation, the Maverick Food Pantry was born.
The pantry is located on campus at the Community Engagement Center in room 121. It offers standard and vegetarian options and contains enough food to last two days.
Any staff or student can sign up to receive free food by simply submitting a request form on OrgSync. Multiple locations to drop off donations are located around campus.
“Just recognizing the needs of students is how the pantry started,” Adler said. “UNO is wonderful because there’s a lot of people who have passion for making a better place for everyone.”