Missoula County



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Why This Measure?

Good nutrition is obviously essential for sustenance, health, and well-being. But dietary factors also contribute substantially to the burden of preventable illness and premature death in the U.S. Aside from inappropriate weight gain, high fat consumption is linked to high blood cholesterol levels increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease—the number one killer nationally. In fact, five of the ten leading causes of death are associated with diets high in fat, low in fiber, and low in fruits and vegetables (MT BFRSS, 1996). An increase in the number of Missoulians who eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily should bring improvement in other areas as well, such as eating at least six daily servings of grains.

Lead Indicator

What we’re really trying to divine with this indicator is whether we eat healthy diets according to food pyramid guidelines. For most people, eating more fruits and vegetables is one of the most important lifestyle changes they can make.

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Source: Montana BRFSS 1999

Missoula County Population Estimates (July 1998) By Age and Gender (useful in translating percentages and rates into actual numbers in certain age categories, or vice versa) Missoula County Population

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How are we doing?

Montana BRFSS data shows that 24% of Montanans were eating the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables in 1997. Women (29%) and Montanans over 65 (31%) are doing better than younger men (18%) and younger Montanans to achieving the goal of "5-A-Day" (MT BRFSS, 1998). The average American consumer eats only three servings of fruits and veggies; 42% eat less than two servings. On the whole, our diets cannot be regarded as healthy. We are getting heavier. We consume vast quantities of soda, coffee, sodium, sweets, and fat-laden foods. Not only are we eating more junk food, but many people don’t even recognize the components of a balanced diet.

But while most of us overfeed ourselves, many members of our community don’t have enough food. Under such circumstances, a healthy diet is unlikely. And it is most often children who go hungry.

How Much Do We Need?

One of the ways in which women differ from men is in their nutritional needs. Women need more calcium and iron than men do; men (and teens) need more calories.

In general, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The following are examples of one serving of fruits or vegetables:

  • 1 medium fruit or 1/2 cup of small or cut-up fruit
  • 3/4 cup of 100% juice
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup raw non-leafy or    cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup raw leafy vegetables (such as lettuce)
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans or peas (such as lentils, pinto beans, and kidney beans)

(FDA Consumer, March 1997)

Overweight Montanans

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Source: Montana BRFSS 1999

The number of Montana adults continues to increase, with 10% more of the adult population considered overweight over the last decade.  This waist-expanding trend is occurring nationally as we become more sedentary. American adults consume about 36% of their total calories from fat; the Healthy People 2000 goal is to reduce that to 30% (HP 2000). For obesity, the HP 2000 goal is to reduce overweight to a prevalence of no more than 20% among persons aged 20 and older, and no more than 15% among adolescents aged 12 through 19.


Approximately 6.2% of Missoula County residents have diabetes, and of those only half know they have it and have received care (Chronic Disease Epidemiology and Control, APHA 1993). Type II diabetes is associated with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Poorly controlled diabetes can result in a multitude of serious health problems including blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, and amputation of lower extremities. Prevention for this type of diabetes includes increasing physical activity, reducing obesity, and improving eating habits.

Poverty & Diet

Poverty greatly affects the quality of nutrition Missoula families receive. Many children and adults have diets restricted to only a few kinds of foods and ingest less than optimal levels of essential nutrients. Poor diets increase an individual’s susceptibility to minor infections, such as colds, and may hinder functioning at the highest physical, mental, and emotional levels. Young families and those headed by single women are at the greatest risk for hunger. 31% of Montana families say their children suffer from hunger, and more than half say they ran out of money to buy food at least once in the past year (1995 data).

Just over half of those eligible for WIC (Assistance for Women, Infants, and Children) are aware of and use it. The Montana WIC program estimated that 35,663 infants and children were eligible for services, yet only 20,824 accessed the program.

Growing Our Own

Missoula, the Garden City, sports vegetable gardens and/or fruit trees in many backyards. Our community’s affinity for gardening shows itself in the popularity of the Farmers’ Market, many public gardens (Waterwise Gardens, Memorial Rose Garden, etc.), and programs such as the Garden City Harvest Project, Northside Community Gardens, and the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD), all of which provide Missoulians with gardening space and know-how, and/or affordable access to homegrown produce.



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