Wealthier neighborhoods have more than three times as many supermarkets as poor neighborhoods, limiting access for many people to the basic elements of a healthy diet, according to a new study.
The choices people make about what to eat are limited by the food available to them, says lead author Kimberly Morland, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health.
Previous studies have shown that people living in poverty often have poor diets, putting them at greater risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and congestive heart failure.
This study, published in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, also shows that when broken down by race, not just wealth, there are four times as many supermarkets in predominantly white neighborhoods as in black neighborhoods. Black households are less likely to have a car or truck available, the study showed.
The lack of private transportation and supermarkets in low-wealth and predominantly black neighborhoods suggests that residents of these neighborhoods may be at a disadvantage when attempting to achieve a healthy diet," she says.
The researchers looked at 216 neighborhoods in Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi and North Carolina.
The poor neighborhoods had more mom'n'pop grocery stores and specialty food stores (fish or meat markets) than the wealthier neighborhoods. The nutritional difference, according to previous studies, is that supermarkets sell more healthy foods at lower costs than corner groceries and convenience stores.
Poor neighborhoods also have far fewer carry-out specialty eating places, such as delicatessens and sandwich shops, and more bars and taverns than wealthy neighborhoods.
The location of supermarkets, restaurants and other food sellers has largely been driven by market factors and economic policies, the researchers say.