Research takes a new approach to identifying 'food deserts'

February 15, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—University of Cincinnati-led research takes a new direction in examining the availability of healthy foods for urban populations by examining the commuting patterns of its residents.

This new approach to identifying so-called food deserts, now published online, will appear in the May journal of Health and Place.

Neighborhoods without access to stores that provide healthy food options – such as fresh fruits and vegetables – are often labeled as food deserts. However, current methods for determining which neighborhoods have access to focus only on where residents' homes are located, and not where people move through the course of the day.

In an article led by Michael Widener, a UC assistant professor of geography, researchers calculated a new way to pinpoint food deserts by factoring the commuting patterns of residents.

Focusing their examination on Cincinnati and using transportation data from The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), they found that residents in certain transportation analysis zones had better access to supermarkets, thanks to their commutes, compared with just factoring in locations of homes.

In other words, some people who reside in food deserts could still pick up healthy foods like on their way home from work, as their access to supermarkets increases because of their other daily travel plans.

The paper also points to an American Community Survey which found that 71 percent of workers 16 and older in Cincinnati are lone commuters to work. However, the current study did not identify whether commuters who resided in food deserts were actually purchasing the healthier foods carried by supermarkets.

Food deserts are often associated with low-income neighborhoods, which have been linked to a range of health problems, including increased risk of diabetes and stroke. However, the authors report that previous research has not produced a consistent link between access to healthy food and healthier residents.

The authors suggest that by using this new method of locating food deserts, new intervention strategies could be developed to encourage post-work trips for healthier food options.

"Given the daily movements of an urban population, this novel measure can provide new information to public and transportation policy makers seeking to understand the role spatial access to plays in population health," states the article.

The OKI data that was studied on the Cincinnati-proper region was from 2005, the most recent year available. Researchers used 2012 data to examine locations of national and regional grocery stores and supermarkets in comparison to Cincinnati neighborhoods. The study covered 359 transportation analysis zones in Cincinnati and approximately 158,000 automobile commuters.

Although the researchers focused on automobile commuters for this study, future research is under way in factoring populations taking public transportation.

Explore further: Study: No magic bullet to improve diet, stem obesity epidemic

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/ … ii/S1353829213000105

Related Stories

Study: No magic bullet to improve diet, stem obesity epidemic

July 14, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Will people eat healthier foods if fresh fruits and vegetables are available in stores near their homes? Will they eat less fast food if restaurants are not in their neighborhoods?

Healthy foods missing from stores in low-income black neighborhoods, study finds

February 23, 2012
Most convenience stores have a wide variety of chips, colorful candies and bottles of sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages. While shoppers can buy calorie-heavy foods wrapped in pretty packages in these locations, what they ...

Recommended for you

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Study finds 275,000 calls to poison control centers for dietary supplement exposures from 2000 through 2012

July 24, 2017
U.S. Poison Control Centers receive a call every 24 minutes, on average, regarding dietary supplement exposures, according to a new study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center, ...

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

App lets patients work alone or with others to prevent, monitor, and reverse chronic disease

July 24, 2017
Lack of patient adherence to treatment plans is a lingering, costly problem in the United States. But MIT Media Lab spinout Twine Health is proving that regular interventions from a patient's community of supporters can greatly ...

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.