Availability of affordable healthy food in Hillsborough County, Florida

AuthorSuzanne Dieringer,Karla Borja
Published date01 August 2019
Date01 August 2019
Availability of affordable healthy food in Hillsborough County,
Karla Borja |Suzanne Dieringer
Department of Economics, The University of
Tampa, Tampa, Florida, USA
Karla Borja, Associate Professor of Economics,
Department of Economics, The University of
Tampa, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Box O, Tampa,
FL 33606, USA.
Email: kborja@ut.edu
Prior research has indic ated that lowincome neig hborhoods in urban regi ons
throughout the United Stat es have limited access to heal thy food, which partly
explains the prevalenc e of dietrelated disease s. Our study provides ne w evidence
on the relationship between access, prices of healthy food, and key demographic
factors in Hillsborough County, Florida. The res earch team completed 65 su rveys
of grocery and convenience stores regarding availability and prices of 11 food
items included in the Nutri tion Environment Measu res Survey in Stores (NEMS
S). Results from the regression analysis indicate that affordable healthy food is
more likely to be found in gr ocery stores than in conve nience stores. There is n o
significant evidenc e, however, that lowinco me neighborhoods have l ess access
to healthy food than the n otlowincome ones . We also obser ve significant price
differences among type s of stores but not in grocerytoc onvenience store ratios
among income groups, sug gesting that lowincome families are not e xposed to higher
food prices.
Studies have found that urban populations in the United States are at risk
of poor diets (Menifield, Doty, & Fletcher, 2008; PiSunyer, 2002). This
can be related to personal choices but also t o the socioeconomic attri-
butes of these communities. The distinction between choiceand fate
regarding healthy food is hotly debated among scholars and policymakers.
The discussion has its roots in the neoclassical view of rational choices
versus the socioecological model in which the environment shapes
behaviors. Rather than fostering education on healthy habits and self
governing eating decisions, which are the fundamental recommendations
in the neoclassical view, the socioecological view promotes a more direct
influence on individual's decisions by locating the causes of obesity and
other related diseases in the geography of the communities. The differ-
ence between these views has also determined policy development: from
educational programs on healthy choices (neoclassical view) to direct
interventions to modify locations and environments (Booth, Pinkston, &
Poston, 2005; Fiese & Jones, 2012; Shannon, 2014).
Supporting the socioecological view, studies have shown that
lowincome neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores or
inadequate transportation are less likely to find healthy food retail
outlets at which to do their shopping, thus promoting the
consumption of highly processed and highsugarcontent food (Chung
& Myers, 1999; Daepp, 2015). If this is the case, the evidence encour-
ages government programs addressing changes in the environments of
these communities. On the other hand, research has found that
consumers are willing to travel long distances to shop for healthy food,
suggesting that healthy eating habits are a matter of choice rather
than environment (GhoshDastidar et al., 2014).
Another related issue is whether food prices differ among
neighborhoods. Due to economies of scale and other supply factors,
large grocery stores can offer a greater variety of food items at lower
prices than convenience stores; thus, the type of stores available in a
neighborhood might be a key feature explaining poor food choices.
In this study, we analyze availability, price, and location of grocery
stores and convenience stores and compare these factors among dif-
ferent community groups. More specifically, we test two hypotheses.
First, whether access to regular and healthy foods is associated with
income, ownership of a vehicle, and closeness to a large food retailer.
We define lowincome neighborhoods as those census tracts with a poverty
rate greater than 20% of total household units. Limited access to a grocery store
is measured by the population living within one mile from the nearest grocery
store or the number of households reporting no access to a vehicle. The infor-
mation regarding these variables is described in Section 3.
Received: 22 November 2017 Revised: 15 August 2018 Accepted: 17 August 2018
DOI: 10.1002/pa.1866
J Public Affairs. 2019;19:e1866.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pa 1of14

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