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The relationship between diet and perceived and objective access to supermarkets among low-income housing residents


  • Caspi, Caitlin E.
  • Kawachi, Ichiro
  • Subramanian, S.V.
  • Adamkiewicz, Gary
  • Sorensen, Glorian


In the U.S., supermarkets serve as an important source of year-round produce (Chung & Myers, 1999), and yet access to supermarkets may be scarce in “food deserts,” or poor, urban areas that lack sources of healthy, affordable food (Cummins & Macintyre, 2002). This study examined objective distance to the nearest supermarket and participant-report of supermarket access in relation to fruit and vegetable intake. Street-network distance to the closest supermarket was calculated using GIS mapping. Perceived access was assessed by a survey question asking whether participants had a supermarket within walking distance of home. Cross-sectional survey data were collected from 828 low-income housing residents in three urban areas in greater-Boston. Generalized estimating equations were used to estimate the association between perceived and objective supermarket access and diet. Fruit and vegetable consumption was low (2.63 servings/day). Results suggest that most low-income housing residents in greater-Boston do not live in “food deserts,” as the average distance to a supermarket was 0.76 km (range 0.13–1.22 km). Distance to a supermarket was not associated with fruit and vegetable intake (p = 0.22). Perceived supermarket access was strongly associated with increased fruit and vegetable intake (0.5 servings/day) after controlling for socio-demographic covariates (p < 0.0001). Patterns of mismatch between perceived and objective measures revealed that mismatch between the two measures were high (31.45%). Those who did not report a supermarket within walking distance from home despite the objective presence of a supermarket within 1 km consumed significantly fewer fruits and vegetables (0.56 servings/day) than those with a supermarket who reported one, even after controlling for socio-demographic variables (p = 0.0008). Perceived measures of the food environment may be more strongly related to dietary behaviors than objective ones, and may incorporate components of food access not captured in objective measures.

Suggested Citation

  • Caspi, Caitlin E. & Kawachi, Ichiro & Subramanian, S.V. & Adamkiewicz, Gary & Sorensen, Glorian, 2012. "The relationship between diet and perceived and objective access to supermarkets among low-income housing residents," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(7), pages 1254-1262.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:7:p:1254-1262
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.05.014

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:aph:ajpbhl:2003:93:9:1552-1558_1 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Neil Wrigley & Daniel Warm & Barrie Margetts, 2003. "Deprivation, diet, and food-retail access: findings from the Leeds 'food deserts' study," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 35(1), pages 151-188, January.
    3. repec:aph:ajpbhl:2002:92:11:1761-1767_2 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Steven Deller & Amber Canto & Laura Brown, 2015. "Rural poverty, health and food access," Regional Science Policy & Practice, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 7(2), pages 61-74, June.
    2. Shannon, Jerry, 2014. "What does SNAP benefit usage tell us about food access in low-income neighborhoods?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 89-99.
    3. Park, A-La & McDaid, David & Weiser, Prisca & von Gottberg, Carolin & Becker, Thomas & Kilian, Reinhold, 2013. "Examining the cost effectiveness of interventions to promote the physical health of people with mental health problems: a systematic review," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 52157, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    4. Caspi, Caitlin E. & Kawachi, Ichiro & Subramanian, S.V. & Tucker-Seeley, Reginald & Sorensen, Glorian, 2013. "The social environment and walking behavior among low-income housing residents," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 76-84.
    5. Bridle-Fitzpatrick, Susan, 2015. "Food deserts or food swamps?: A mixed-methods study of local food environments in a Mexican city," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 202-213.
    6. Cannuscio, Carolyn C. & Hillier, Amy & Karpyn, Allison & Glanz, Karen, 2014. "The social dynamics of healthy food shopping and store choice in an urban environment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 13-20.
    7. repec:eee:jfpoli:v:74:y:2018:i:c:p:199-211 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Astell-Burt, Thomas & Feng, Xiaoqi & Kolt, Gregory S. & Jalaludin, Bin, 2015. "Does rising crime lead to increasing distress? Longitudinal analysis of a natural experiment with dynamic objective neighbourhood measures," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 138(C), pages 68-73.
    9. Mark LeClair & Anna-Maria Aksan, 2014. "Redefining the food desert: combining GIS with direct observation to measure food access," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 31(4), pages 537-547, December.


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