Objective: Neighbourhood differences in access to fresh fruit and vegetables may explain social inequalities in diet. Investigations have focused on variations in cost and availability as barriers to the purchase and consumption of fresh produce; investigations of quality have been neglected. Here we investigate whether produce quality systematically varies by food store type, rural-urban location and neighbourhood deprivation in a selection of communities across Scotland.
Design: Cross-sectional survey of twelve fresh fruit and vegetable items in 288 food stores in ten communities across Scotland. Communities were selected to reflect a range of urban-rural settings and a food retail census was conducted in each location. The quality of twelve fruit and vegetable items within each food store was evaluated. Data from the Scottish Executive were used to characterise each small area by deprivation and urban-rural classification.
Results: Quality of fruit and vegetables within the surveyed stores was high. Medium-sized stores, stores in small town and rural areas, and stores in more affluent areas tended to have the highest-quality fresh fruit and vegetables. Stores where food is secondary, stores in urban settings and stores in more deprived areas tended have the lowest-quality fresh produce. Although differences in quality were not always statistically significant, patterns were consistent for the majority of fruit and vegetable items.
Conclusions: The study provides evidence that variations in food quality may plausibly be a micro-environmental mediating variable in food purchase and consumption and help partially explain neighbourhood differences in food consumption patterns.