Zoning for Healthy Food Access Varies by Community Income

Zoning and land use laws allow or prohibit different types of food outlets, such as supermarkets, farmers’ markets, fast-food restaurants, and convenience stores, in a community. As such, these laws affect people’s access to healthy affordable foods.

This brief examines the extent to which local zoning ordinances allow food outlets within a community and whether the zoning provisions vary based on community income. Researchers from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Bridging the Gap national program collected data from 175 communities across the United States in 2010.

The findings show that community zoning policies were more likely to allow fast-food restaurants and retail stores than supermarkets and grocery stores. Further, lower-income communities were less likely to grant permits for non-store food outlets, such as farmers’ markets or community gardens, in their zoning ordinances than were higher-income communities.

The brief describes related policy implications and discusses strategies that local governments can use to make healthy foods more accessible.


Bridging the Gap is a nationally recognized research program dedicated to improving the understanding of how policies and environmental factors influence diet, physical activity and obesity among youth, as well as youth tobacco use. The program identifies and tracks information at the state, community and school levels; measures change over time; and shares findings that will help advance effective solutions for reversing the childhood obesity epidemic and preventing young people from smoking. Bridging the Gap is a joint project of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Health Research and Policy and the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.