Food Systems and Public Health Disparities

Food systems influence health and contribute to health disparities in the United States. Community factors such as access to supermarkets and famers’ markets, as well as broad social, economic and political forces, affect the food choices individuals make and can lead to disparities in health.

The authors use a new conceptual model to illustrate the complex dynamic and multifaceted relationships between food systems and health disparities. They present a review of the literature, organized according to the model’s framework:

  • Broad Food System—food supply (what is produced and how); availability, price and food assistance; and food and beverage marketing.
  • Community Food System—stores and farmers’ markets; restaurants and the link between fast food and obesity; school and workplace cafeteria choices; and community-level policy approaches.
  • Other Social Factors—traditions, cultural identity and food choices; availability of time to cook healthy foods; and perceptions of “good food” as being healthy, green, fair and affordable.
  • Food Production Exposures—environmental and health threats associated with agriculture and food processing.

The authors identify specific areas for further research on how food system interventions can address and reduce health disparities.