Neighborhood Environments

Disparities in Access to Healthy Foods in the U.S.

The types of food stores and restaurants in a community dictate the consumption of more- or less-healthy foods. Considerable gaps exist in access to beneficial dietary environments.

The development of responsive public health policies first requires the clear establishment of prevailing conditions. This review of already published material presents a comprehensive examination of demographic disparities in dietary intake. The authors used keyword searches from within the National Library of Medicine database to cull relevant research studies.

Key Findings:

  • The presence of additional supermarkets has a substantial impact on the diets of African Americans, one greater than on the diets of White individuals.
  • In census areas of similar poverty levels, residents of predominantly African-American census areas travel over one mile, on average, further to the nearest supermarket than residents of mostly White areas.
  • For adolescents, less-healthy food choices are tied more to the presence of convenience stores than to the availability of supermarkets. Research suggests that convenience stores and fast-food restaurants are closer to schools in low-income and racially mixed neighborhoods.

Most of the studies reviewed for this article relied on available lists to assess residential food environments, lacking on-the-ground verification.

Editor’s note: Neighborhood Environments: Disparities in Access to Healthy Foods in the U.S. was recognized as one of the most requested articles from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (July 9, 2009).

Most Requested