Neighborhood Affects Access to Healthy Food, Study Finds
There is growing evidence that the segregation of neighborhoods by race, ethnicity and income significantly contributes to health disparities faced by U.S. residents, and accessibility to food might be a factor, according to a study published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Reuters reports. For the study, lead researcher Nicole Larson of the University of Minnesota and colleagues reviewed 54 studies published between 1985 and 2008 that examined food access by neighborhood in the U.S.
People who live in poorer neighborhoods are less likely to have access to supermarkets that sell a variety of fresh produce and other healthy foods, according to the analysis. Researchers noted that supermarkets are more likely to sell a wide variety of healthy foods at lower prices, while convenience stores usually sell less healthy food at higher prices. Studies included in the analysis found that:
- The likelihood that blacks would meet guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption increased by 32% with every additional supermarket located near their home;
- People who have a supermarket in their neighborhood have a reduced risk for obesity, while easy access to convenience stores increased obesity risk;
- Predominately black neighborhoods had half as many supermarket chains as predominantly white neighborhoods, while Hispanic neighborhoods had one-third as many supermarket chains as white neighborhoods;
- Healthy foods such as fresh produce, low fat dairy foods, high fiber breads and lean meats were more accessible and of higher quality in white neighborhoods than in non-white neighborhoods; and
- Rural communities tend to have worse access to supermarkets.
The findings clearly indicate "stark racial and ethnic disparities" in the kind of food stores available in certain neighborhoods, researchers noted. Larson said, "The research I reviewed suggests there is a need for new policies and other local actions to address the problem of poor access to healthy foods in many lower income, rural and minority communities."
She suggested that "financial incentives, help to conduct market feasibility studies, assistance with parking/transportation plans and assistance with site cleanup/assembly," should be offered to supermarket chains to encourage them to open stores in lower-income neighborhoods (Harding, Reuters, 1/21).
An abstract of the study is available online. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.