Storefront advertising of unhealthy products such as cigarettes, candy and other junk food has increased in Sonoma County, while ads for healthy food have decreased in the past three years, according to a new public health survey.
The survey, which was presented by the County Department of Health Services at a press event in Santa Rosa on Wednesday morning, assessed the availability and marketing of both healthy and unhealthy products in 142 local stores. The first time the survey was conducted was in 2013.
The number of stores with storefront advertising of healthy products fell from 15.1 in 2013 to 11.3 percent in 2016. The number of stores with storefront ads for unhealthy products rose from 69.8 percent to 73.9 percent, the survey found.
Meanwhile, the availability of e-cigarettes rose more than 10 percentage points to almost 72 percent and the number of stores within 1,000 feet of a school that sold flavored, non-cigarette tobacco products leaped from 75 to almost 91 percent.
Advertising and the availability of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods greatly influence people’s choices and inevitably lead to multiple chronic illnesses, said Dr. Tara Scott, a family physician who spoke at the press event.
“Almost everything that I see in the clinic and the hospital is food-related disease,” said Scott, who works at Vista Family Health Center and Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. “If it’s not directly caused by people’s diets, it’s significantly impacted by their diets,” she said.
Scott explained after the press event that 90 percent of the illnesses she encounters, such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes and lung disease are a result of poor diet.
The local survey is part of a campaign called the Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community campaign, a statewide effort at curbing tobacco and alcohol use and promoting nutrition, spearheaded by county health and human services departments.
Of the stores surveyed:
82 percent sell flavored tobacco products, but only 42 percent sold fresh fruits or vegetables.
74 percent of stores sold a popular brand of “little cigars” individually for under a dollar, less than the cost of a candy bar.
45 percent of stores sold non- or low-fat milk, but more than 70 percent sold alcohol.
Across the state, survey information was gathered from more than 7,100 stores in all 58 counties. These included pharmacies, delis, supermarkets, convenience and liquor stores as well as stores where only tobacco is sold.
“The tobacco industry has put billions of dollars into promoting their product and they target community convenience stores because that’s where people are going and that’s how they reach kids,” said Karen Milman, Sonoma County’s public health officer.
“Ads are convincing kids to vape, smoke and chew tobacco, and 23,500 kids in California become new smokers every day,” she said.
But there was some good news in the 2016 survey, Milman pointed out. The number of stores that sold little cigars dropped from 83.1 percent to 73.9 percent; those that sold single little cigars fell from 58.7 percent to 27.5 percent and stores that located sugary drinks at checkout counters dropped from 68.6 percent to 40.1 percent.
In many cases, however, the county’s survey results were worse than the state’s average. For example, only 41.3 percent of stores across the state put sugary drinks at the checkout counters, compared to 68.6 percent in Sonoma County.