Worldwide, interest in research on methods to define access to healthy food at the local level has grown, given its central connection to carrying out a healthy lifestyle. Within this research domain, papers have examined the spatial element of food access, or individual perceptions about the food environment. To date, however, no studies have provided a method for linking a validated, objective measure of the food environment with qualitative data on how people access healthy food in their community. In this study, we present a methodology for linking scores from a modified Nutrition Environment Measures Survey in Stores (conducted at every store in our study site of Flint, Michigan) with perceptions of the acceptability of food stores and shopping locations drawn from seven focus groups (n = 53). Spatial analysis revealed distinct patterns in visiting and avoidance of certain store types. Chain stores tended to be rated more highly, while stores in neighborhoods with more African-American or poor residents were rated less favorably and avoided more frequently. Notably, many people avoided shopping in their own neighborhoods; participants traveled an average of 3.38 miles to shop for groceries, and 60% bypassed their nearest grocery store when shopping. The utility of our work is threefold. First, we provide a methodology for linking perceived and objective definitions of food access among a small sample that could be replicated in cities across the globe. Second, we show links between perceptions of food access and objectively measured food store scores to uncover inequalities in access in our sample to illustrate potential connections. Third, we advocate for the use of such data in informing the development of a platforms that aim to make the process of accessing healthy food easier via non-food retail based interventions. Future work can replicate our methods to both uncover patterns in distinct food environments and aid in advocacy around how to best intervene in the food environment in various locales.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Computer Science(all)
- Business, Management and Accounting(all)
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health