Background: Poor dietary patterns and obesity, established risk factors for chronic disease, have been linked to neighborhood deprivation, neighborhood minority composition, and low area population density. Neighborhood differences in access to food may have an important influence on these relationships and health disparities in the U.S. This article reviews research relating to the presence, nature, and implications of neighborhood differences in access to food.
Methods: A snowball strategy was used to identify relevant research studies (n=54) completed in the U.S. and published between 1985 and April 2008.
Results: Research suggests that neighborhood residents who have better access to supermarkets and limited access to convenience stores tend to have healthier diets and lower levels of obesity. Results from studies examining the accessibility of restaurants are less consistent, but there is some evidence to suggest that residents with limited access to fast-food restaurants have healthier diets and lower levels of obesity. National and local studies across the U.S. suggest that residents of low-income, minority, and rural neighborhoods are most often affected by poor access to supermarkets and healthful food. In contrast, the availability of fast-food restaurants and energy-dense foods has been found to be greater in lower-income and minority neighborhoods.
Conclusions: Neighborhood disparities in access to food are of great concern because of their potential to influence dietary intake and obesity. Additional research is needed to address various limitations of current studies, identify effective policy actions, and evaluate intervention strategies designed to promote more equitable access to healthy foods.