Panel Paper: Place, Price, and Poverty: Understanding Factors Shaping Household Food Behavior

Monday, June 13, 2016 : 2:15 PM
Clement House, 2nd Floor, Room 06 (London School of Economics)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Scott Allard, University of Washington and Patricia Ruggles, University of Chicago
Rising rates of food insecurity have led researchers to examine how the local retail food environment affects household food purchases, consumption, and food security. Particular attention has been given to identifying the presence of “food deserts,” areas with low or no spatial access to retail stores that sell fresh food and groceries. Neighborhoods with concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities and poor persons have been found to have lower levels of access to food retailers than predominately white or more affluent neighborhoods, but more recent research suggests there may be less race or class inequality in access to food retailers than previously presumed. However, because few data sources link local food retailers and pricing, household food purchases, and food insecurity in space, too often we are limited in our ability assess the relationship between access to food retailers, pricing, and food security, especially for race and ethnic minorities, the poor, and other vulnerable households. To address these critical gaps in the literature, this paper explores the relationships between household food security, food purchases, food pricing, and the geography of the local retail food infrastructure for low-income households, using unique public and restricted use data files from the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). Household shopping decisions is modeled as a function of spatial access to retailers and the spatial contours of food pricing near respondents. We also will examine how food retailer access and food pricing are associated with the specific types of foods purchased by households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and by those who are eligible for SNAP but who do not participate.  These analyses will allow us to assess the potential impacts of SNAP participation on diet quality and household food security. We find that many population sub-groups identified in the literature as being vulnerable to low food resource access, such as blacks or urban residents, have greater or comparable spatial access to several different types of food resources compared to less vulnerable population sub-groups. Also, we do not find food access to be related to household food behaviors across many different vulnerable sub-populations. Although preliminary, we find some evidence of differences in shopping behavior among households receiving SNAP and those households eligible, not receiving SNAP. For example, SNAP participants spend about 15 percent more on groceries each week than eligible non-participants and they travel about 4 miles less roundtrip when grocery shopping. We do not, however, see significant differences in foods purchased or prices paid across SNAP recipients and eligible non-participants. Our findings provide a clearer understanding of how spatial context shapes food insecurity, which could translate into more efficient and effective allocation of public program dollars, private capital, and philanthropic resources.