Studies: Improving Food Accessibility in Food Deserts Does Not Improve Neighborhood Nutrition

Increasing accessibility to fresh fruits and vegetables in food deserts may not be the only solution to better nutrition, according to a recent studies. A new study shows that food costs, people’s eating and shopping habits, and education are more powerful factors influencing people’s shopping behaviors than convenience. 

The study followed customers of a relatively new local grocery store in Morrisania, a neighborhood located in the Bronx. Although the store opened in 2011, the diets and purchasing habits of the neighborhood’s residents did not change. 

Another study analyzed grocery shopping habits of families who agreed to allow researchers to scan and measure their food purchases. The participating families also allowed researchers to log personal details such as their addresses, demographics, incomes and education levels.

Researchers originally thought people living in lower-income neighborhoods had less healthy diets because of limited access to healthy food. However, the study proved that people’s food preferences and education won over convenience.

“When the researchers looked at shoppers with lower levels of income and education living in richer neighborhoods with more accessible healthy food, their shopping mimicked that of low-income, less-educated people in poorer neighborhoods,” reported the New York Times

These new studies show that improving accessibility is not enough to improve nutrition. Instead, changing people’s habits and the way they view diet and health may improve people’s diets, said Handbury, an author of the study “What Drives Nutritional Disparities? Retail Access and Food Purchases Across the Socioeconomic Spectrum” and an assistant professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, to the New York Times.  

Read the full New York Times article here