Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Salient Features of the Local Food Retail Environment for Low-Income Americans in the Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS)

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 10:15 AM
Orchid B (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Abigail Steiner1, Parke Wilde1 and Michele Ver Ploeg2, (1)Tufts University, (2)U.S. Department of Agriculture
Introduction. Lack of high-quality retailers in “supermarket deserts” has raised concern about potential negative implications for food security and dietary quality. One strand of this research has focused on the absence of supermarkets at very close distances. Another strand instead has emphasized automobile access to supermarkets at greater distances. This paper seeks to uncover which qualities of the food retail environment really are salient. We identify the qualities of the food retail environment that predict low-income consumers’ actual choice of primary food retailer, their opinion about this primary retailer, and their own lived experience of household food security and dietary quality.

Methods. We use data from USDA’s new Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). The survey provides information not just about distance to the nearest supermarket, but also about the distance to the primary food retailer where respondents actually shop. We use simple logistic regression models to measure the cross-sectional association between food environment variables and two outcomes: household food security and self-reported “very good” or “excellent” dietary quality. For brevity, this abstract reports selected coefficients for just the dietary quality variable in the low-income sample.

Results. Perhaps surprisingly, access to a nearby supermarket was better for two low-income resource strata (SNAP participants and non-participants with household income < 100% of the federal poverty standard) than for two higher income resource strata (SNAP non-participants with household income 100-185%, and household income >185% of the federal poverty standard). Yet, in all 4 resource strata, households commonly traveled farther than the closest supermarket, usually accessing the primary retailer by automobile (80% to 97% of households used a vehicle as their mode of transportation).

            All else equal, in the low-income sample, using one’s own automobile to reach the primary retailer was associated with greatly elevated odds of having high dietary quality (Table 1). Increased distance to the primary retailer was associated with improved odds of higher dietary quality. By contrast, distance to the nearest supermarket -- the food environment variable most commonly used in prior research -- had no significant effect.

            Discussion. Distance to the nearest supermarket does not strongly predict self-reported household food security and dietary quality. Even low-income Americans most commonly use automobiles to reach their primary food retailer. The most salient feature of the local food retail environment for low-income Americans may be the power to access to high-quality low-price supermarkets at reasonable driving distances.