Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Giving food desert residents healthier options does not mean they will eat healthier, study says

Giving people in rural food deserts—more than 10 miles from the nearest grocery store—healthier choices does not mean they will eat healthier, says a study by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rural residents in food deserts purchase significantly greater amounts of healthy foods outside their immediate neighborhoods, but given healthier options locally, "their shopping patterns changed only slightly," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder.

The study used data from the 2010 Nielsen Homescan Panel Survey, which tracks consumers’ purchases of individual items, including where the purchase was made. 

Consumers living in low-income, low access areas (LILA) "bought 4.5 percent less fruit, 2.7 percent fewer vegetables and 10.8 percent fewer low-fat milk products than consumers not residing in LILA areas," states the study's authors. "At the same time, they bought 8.9 percent more red meat, 5 percent more diet (soda) drinks and 3.3 percent more non-diet drinks. LILA consumers who travel farther to buy food purchase more fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry and fewer drinks (diet and non-diet), but the magnitudes of these effects are small, and they cannot explain large nutritional disparities observed in the population."

Allison Hagey, who works in the health-equity and food-access program at PolicyLink, "says one study doesn’t undermine years of research showing that better access to healthy foods is a necessary ingredient in improving nutrition," Marema writes. She told him, “Every few year there’s a study like this that is trying to measure the immediate impact of these types of community initiatives. Often the focus is on one single measurement and misses the bigger picture of what it means to have a healthy community.” (Read more) (For an interactive version of this USDA map, click here)

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