Panel Paper: The Association Between the Food Environment and Residential Segregation

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 3:30 PM
San Juan (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ferzana D. Havewala, University of Texas, Dallas
The benefits of a “healthy diet” have been firmly established. Yet the means to achieve that diet and the ability to follow established dietary guidelines differ significantly.  While personal choices and preferences do play a role, the local food environment has been playing an increasing greater role in people’s ability to access affordable, healthy, and nutritious foods. Studies on food accessibility and food deserts are plentiful and varied and the literature is abundant on the differential food access landscape for different groups based on race/ethnicity or income. However, the underlying pathways by which the distribution of race and income impact the food environment have not received attention in previous research.  To my knowledge, there is no concise analysis that has examined the association between the food environment and residential segregation (either racial/ethnic or economic).

This study looks at the varied effect of residential segregation by race/ethnicity and income on the food environment in terms of access to food, and quality, variety of food available.  This study will add to the residential segregation literature by providing a detailed account of each of the varied dimensions of racial/ethnic segregation (and potential hypersegregation) and the varied dimensions of economic segregation. As the different measures of segregation reveal conceptually distinct features of residential segregation, this study analyzes each of the different dimensions - Evenness, Exposure, Clustering, Centralization, and Concentration.  By considering these various dimensions and shedding light on the particular aspects of residential segregation that impact the food environment, this study fits into both the debate over the consequences of segregation, and the debate over effective food retail zoning and accessibility. 

The analysis is conducted at two levels. The first set of analysis is at the metropolitan area level, using a sample of 25 diverse Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) across the country and using measures for food access determined by the USDA Food Access Research Atlas. The second set of analysis provides a more in-depth, granular view with a case study of municipalities within the  Dallas Fort Worth metropolitan area.  Assessing the factors of density and proximity, along with type of food outlet, the local level analysis provides a comprehensive view of the food environment down to the granularity of the census block and block group by calculating a composite score measure of the food environment. The different measures of residential segregation are then compared and associated with this composite food environment score.

This study will help us understand if actual disparities exist in the food environment based on the different measures of residential segregation by race/ethnicity and income.  The two different geographical levels (MSA vs. Municipality) will shed light on the scale of disparities.  The underlying pathways by which residential segregation by race or income affect the food environment may be examined as distinct measures, with their potential effects isolated.  As we  identify the particular aspects of residential segregation that impact the food environment, effective policies to combat imbalances in the food environment can be addressed by means of addressing those specific aspects.