Access to healthy foods limited in poor neighborhoods

January 07, 2002

Wealthier neighborhoods have more than three times as many supermarkets as poor neighborhoods, limiting access for many people to the basic elements of a healthy diet, according to a new study.

"The choices people make about what to eat are limited by the food available to them," says lead author Kimberly Morland, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health.

Previous studies have shown that people living in poverty often have poor diets, putting them at greater risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and congestive heart failure.

This study, published in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, also shows that when broken down by race, not just wealth, there are four times as many supermarkets in predominantly white neighborhoods as in black neighborhoods. Black households are less likely to have a car or truck available, the study showed.

"The lack of private transportation and supermarkets in low-wealth and predominantly black neighborhoods suggests that residents of these neighborhoods may be at a disadvantage when attempting to achieve a healthy diet," she says.

The researchers looked at 216 neighborhoods in Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi and North Carolina.

The poor neighborhoods had more mom'n'pop grocery stores and specialty food stores (fish or meat markets) than the wealthier neighborhoods. The nutritional difference, according to previous studies, is that supermarkets sell more healthy foods at lower costs than corner groceries and convenience stores.

Poor neighborhoods also have far fewer carry-out specialty eating places, such as delicatessens and sandwich shops, and more bars and taverns than wealthy neighborhoods.

The location of supermarkets, restaurants and other food sellers has largely been driven by market factors and economic policies, the researchers say.

"The retail sector has been affected by economic policies that support corporate retail chains, public- and private-sector loan policies that favor home ownership for white Americans and land use policies that facilitate development of predominately wealthy and white suburban neighborhoods," they say.
The study was funded in part by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sponsored by the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine and the American College of Preventive Medicine, is published eight times a year by Elsevier Science. The Journal is a forum for the communication of information, knowledge and wisdom in prevention science, education, practice and policy. For more information about the Journal, contact the editorial office at 619-594-7344.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, For information about the Center, call Ira Allen,, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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