From Our Team
Concern over the concept of 'Food Deserts'
Over the last few years, there’s been significant concern over the concept of ‘food deserts.’ The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines these as “communities, particularly low-income areas, in which residents do not live in close proximity to affordable and healthy food retailers. Healthy food options in these communities are hard to find or are unaffordable.” In the vernacular, food deserts are neighborhoods without grocery stores, particularly stores that sell fresh produce. Researchers have found an association between low access to grocery stores and poor nutrition.
In response to this concern, the U.S. Congress allocated $400 million to the Healthy Food Financing Initiative – a project that works “to expand the availability of nutritious food” through the development of grocery stores, corner stores, and farmers markets. In some cases, the federal government provides financing to open new supermarkets in neighborhoods considered to be food deserts.
In the February issue of Health Affairs, three British scholars (Steven Cummins, Ellen Flint and Stephen A. Matthews) share their findings from a study on food deserts in the Philadelphia area. The study measured three outcomes for residents living in two low-income, predominantly black communities: body mass index (BMI), daily fruit and vegetable consumption, and perceptions of food accessibility. One community received a new grocery store, while the other did not. Cummins and colleagues report that the new supermarket did not affect BMI or daily fruit and vegetable intake in the community where it was placed; however, residents of this neighborhood reported improved perceptions of food accessibility (versus their peers in the other neighborhood).
While it’s not surprising that the new supermarket did not affect BMI (only six months between pre- and post tests), it surprises me that the researchers did not find any change in fruit and vegetable intake. My conclusion: these neighborhoods may need more than a new grocery store to improve health outcomes.
Dr. Collin Payne, a marketing professor at New Mexico State University, is investigating the type of marketing that may help these food deserts – nudge marketing. Payne’s work involves interventions that prod shoppers to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables. By strategically placing floor mats with directional arrows and modifying shopping carts, Payne has found that nudge marketing can affect what people purchase. His research has also demonstrated that in-store marketing can increase fruit and vegetable purchasing, without increasing the total grocery bill for the shopper. Read the link below to learn more about Payne’s work:
Payne’s project is funded by the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, as part of the Healthy Eating and Active Living initiative.
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