For Access To Nutritious Food, It Comes Down To Price Interview with:
Lillian MacNell PhD

Assistant Professor
Department of Public Health
Campbell University What is the background for this study?

Response: There’s been a lot of research done on how to define and measure food deserts (areas with limited access to supermarkets), and some other studies on the dietary and related health effects of living in a food desert. But there’s been a lot less attention paid to how the people who live in those food deserts deal with this—how do they feel it affects them? How and where do they shop for food? In this study, we wanted to get a better understanding of the daily reality of living in a food desert and the strategies that people use to respond to low access to food. We interviewed 42 low-income mothers and grandmothers of young children in one urban food desert about this, and we also profiled the available food stores in the neighborhood to get a sense of what’s available for these families.

One thing we found is that most of the food stores in the neighborhood were small corner and convenience stores; these rarely offered fresh fruits and vegetables, and only a few carried canned produce or other nutritious options like low-fat milk and wheat bread. When we did see those items in the neighborhood, they cost about 25% more than they did at the nearest supermarkets. So in terms of the environment, these women were working with fewer options at a higher price, unless they traveled outside of their neighborhoods to reach large supermarkets. What are the main findings?
Response: Our main finding was that shoppers were motivated by prices of food far more than location—shoppers were willing to travel long distances and incur higher travel costs in order to bypass their nearest small stores in order to reach larger, less expensive supermarkets.

Since it was more difficult to go shopping, many women also shopped just once a month, which limited the amount of produce they could buy and eat before it would go bad. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: An important takeaway is that there are multiple ways to think about “access” to food. Supermarkets are important—shoppers said that they would eat more produce if they could shop more often at closer stores, for example. But this physical access is not the only part of the story; affordability of the food was even more important. This may not seem surprising (since most people prefer to pay less for food), but it does suggest that simply addressing a problem of physical access—for example by adding a supermarket in a food desert—may not help with the underlying issue of affordability. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: It would be great to see more research that expands our concept of “access” further. How can we support smaller stores to offer a greater variety of nutritious items, and at a lower cost? How can we support families who may have one or two working adults, sometimes working multiple jobs, who still have trouble affording food? These are important questions that are sometimes missed when the focus is solely on increasing physical access to stores.  

Disclosures: The work was done with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, under grant number 2011-68001-30103. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Black and Latino Urban Food Desert Residents’ Perceptions of Their Food Environment and Factors That Influence Food Shopping Decisions
Lillian MacNell, Sinikka Elliott, Annie Hardison-Moody, and Sarah Bowen
Journal Of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Vol. 0 , Iss. 0,0


Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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