Distance to store, food prices, and obesity in urban food deserts

Am J Prev Med. 2014 Nov;47(5):587-95. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.07.005. Epub 2014 Sep 10.


Background: Lack of access to healthy foods may explain why residents of low-income neighborhoods and African Americans in the U.S. have high rates of obesity. The findings on where people shop and how that may influence health are mixed. However, multiple policy initiatives are underway to increase access in communities that currently lack healthy options. Few studies have simultaneously measured obesity, distance, and prices of the store used for primary food shopping.

Purpose: To examine the relationship among distance to store, food prices, and obesity.

Methods: The Pittsburgh Hill/Homewood Research on Eating, Shopping, and Health study conducted baseline interviews with 1,372 households between May and December 2011 in two low-income, majority African American neighborhoods without a supermarket. Audits of 16 stores where participants reported doing their major food shopping were conducted. Data were analyzed between February 2012 and February 2013.

Results: Distance to store and prices were positively associated with obesity (p<0.05). When distance to store and food prices were jointly modeled, only prices remained significant (p<0.01), with higher prices predicting a lower likelihood of obesity. Although low- and high-price stores did not differ in availability, they significantly differed in their display and marketing of junk foods relative to healthy foods.

Conclusions: Placing supermarkets in food deserts to improve access may not be as important as simultaneously offering better prices for healthy foods relative to junk foods, actively marketing healthy foods, and enabling consumers to resist the influence of junk food marketing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data
  • Commerce / economics
  • Commerce / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Food / economics*
  • Food Supply* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Pennsylvania / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult