Background: A growing body of research suggests that the suburbanization of food retailers in North America and the United Kingdom in recent decades has contributed to the emergence of urban 'food deserts', or disadvantaged areas of cities with relatively poor access to healthy and affordable food. This paper explores the evolution of food deserts in a mid-sized Canadian city (London, Ontario) by using a geographic information system (GIS) to map the precise locations of supermarkets in 1961 and 2005; multiple techniques of network analysis were used to assess changing levels of supermarket access in relation to neighbourhood location, socioeconomic characteristics, and access to public transit.
Results: The findings indicate that residents of inner-city neighbourhoods of low socioeconomic status have the poorest access to supermarkets. Furthermore, spatial inequalities in access to supermarkets have increased over time, particularly in the inner-city neighbourhoods of Central and East London, where distinct urban food deserts now exist.
Conclusion: Contrary to recent findings in larger Canadian cities, we conclude that urban food deserts exist in London, Ontario. Policies aimed at improving public health must also recognize the spatial, as well as socioeconomic, inequities with respect to access to healthy and affordable food. Additional research is necessary to better understand how supermarket access influences dietary behaviours and related health outcomes.