Objectives: We examined whether supermarket choice, conceptualized as a proxy for underlying personal factors, would better predict access to supermarkets and fruit and vegetable consumption than mere physical proximity.
Methods: The Seattle Obesity Study geocoded respondents' home addresses and locations of their primary supermarkets. Primary supermarkets were stratified into low, medium, and high cost according to the market basket cost of 100 foods. Data on fruit and vegetable consumption were obtained during telephone surveys. Linear regressions examined associations between physical proximity to primary supermarkets, supermarket choice, and fruit and vegetable consumption. Descriptive analyses examined whether supermarket choice outweighed physical proximity among lower-income and vulnerable groups.
Results: Only one third of the respondents shopped at their nearest supermarket for their primary food supply. Those who shopped at low-cost supermarkets were more likely to travel beyond their nearest supermarket. Fruit and vegetable consumption was not associated with physical distance but, with supermarket choice, after adjusting for covariates.
Conclusions: Mere physical distance may not be the most salient variable to reflect access to supermarkets, particularly among those who shop by car. Studies on food environments need to focus beyond neighborhood geographic boundaries to capture actual food shopping behaviors.