Objective: There has been limited study of all types of food stores, such as traditional (supercenters, supermarkets, and grocery stores), convenience stores, and non-traditional (dollar stores, mass merchandisers, and pharmacies) as potential opportunities for purchase of fresh and processed (canned and frozen) fruits and vegetables, especially in small-town or rural areas.
Methods: Data from the Brazos Valley Food Environment Project (BVFEP) are combined with 2000 U.S. Census data for 101 Census block groups (CBG) to examine neighborhood access to fruits and vegetables. BVFEP data included identification and geocoding of all food stores (n = 185) in six rural counties in Texas, using ground-truthed methods and on-site assessment of the availability and variety of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables in all food stores. Access from the population-weighted centroid of each CBG was measured using proximity (minimum network distance) and coverage (number of shopping opportunities) for a good selection of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables. Neighborhood inequalities (deprivation and vehicle ownership) and spatial access for fruits and vegetables were examined using Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-rank test and multivariate regression models.
Results: The variety of fruits or vegetables was greater at supermarkets compared with grocery stores. Among non-traditional and convenience food stores, the largest variety was found at dollar stores. On average, rural neighborhoods were 9.9 miles to the nearest supermarket, 6.7 miles and 7.4 miles to the nearest food store with a good variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, respectively, and 4.7 miles and 4.5 miles to a good variety of fresh and processed fruits or vegetables. High deprivation or low vehicle ownership neighborhoods had better spatial access to a good variety of fruits and vegetables, both in the distance to the nearest source and in the number of shopping opportunities.
Conclusion: Supermarkets and grocery stores are no longer the only shopping opportunities for fruits or vegetables. The inclusion of data on availability of fresh or processed fruits or vegetables in the measurements provides robust meaning to the concept of potential access in this large rural area.