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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Predominantly white and wealthy neighborhoods have far more healthy food options than poor minority areas, according to a University of Michigan study.
Large supermarkets, with a payroll of more than 50 employees, are more prevalent in wealthier areas, which is significant because they tend to have a wide selection of nutritious foods at lower prices.
Researchers analyzed 2000 U.S. Census data from 75 census tracts in Forsyth County, N.C.; 276 census tracts in the city of Baltimore and Baltimore County, Md.; and 334 census tracts in Manhattan and the Bronx, N.Y., comparing them against information on food establishments purchased from InfoUSA, which maintains commercial databases on businesses.
"Health researchers have focused on individual behavior as a risk for disease," said Ana Diez Roux, associate professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health and co-author of the study, in the February issue of American Journal of Public Health. "We want to understand what features of the environment shape behavior."
Other findings of the study:
-- Natural food stores, fruit and vegetable markets, bakeries and specialty food stores were more common in predominantly white neighborhoods.
-- 19 percent of stores in predominantly black areas were 2,500 square feet or more, while 42 percent of stores in predominantly white areas were 2,500 square feet or more.
-- Liquor stores were more common in the poorest than in the wealthiest neighborhoods.
Diez Roux said one implication of the supermarket study is that health outreach programs encouraging people to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and to cut down on high-fat foods need to take into account what's available nearby.
On a related note, a report released by The Food Trust, called "Philadelphia's New Markets: Ripe Opportunities for Retailers," demonstrates that each of Philadelphia's inner city communities contain at least $50 million in retail buying power per square mile; but dollars that could be spent on food are leaving these neighborhoods.
Per square mile, all sections of the city have more buying power than the overall metropolitan area. Residents of one neighborhood, Olney, alone are currently spending $205 million annually on food outside of their neighborhood. With mounting evidence that supermarket access improves diet and reduces the risk of developing diet-related diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, the time is right for supermarkets to set up shop in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, the study said.
"We need more supermarkets in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth," said state Rep. Dwight Evans, a leader in the effort to bring supermarkets to underserved neighborhoods in Philadelphia. "This report clearly shows that supermarkets can thrive in communities that are currently underserved and support our efforts to prevent obesity, diabetes, high-blood pressure, and heart disease."
Recognizing that supermarkets present a tremendous opportunity to improve health and bring jobs to communities, the state of Pennsylvania created the Fresh Food Financing Initiative in 2004 to create flexible financing options for operators who are interested in locating in underserved communities.
The $80 million fund made up of public and private investments is managed by The Food Trust, the Reinvestment Fund, and the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition.