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NEW YORK - Poor neighborhoods have fewer supermarkets and food service offerings than wealthier areas, according to a study by the US Environmental Protection Agency that was recently published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Reuters reports. The study's results suggest that residents in poorer neighborhoods might find it harder to buy healthy, low-cost food.
"Without access to supermarkets, which offer a wide variety of foods at lower prices, poor and minority communities may not have equal access to the variety of healthy food choices available to nonminority and wealthy communities," write lead study author Dr. Kimberly Morland of the US Environmental Protection Agency and her colleagues.
Morland's team analyzed the locations of more than 2,400 food stores and food service places in 216 Mississippi, North Carolina, Maryland and Minnesota neighborhoods. They measured each neighborhood's wealth by home values.
The researchers found that individuals who lived in wealthier neighborhoods had access to more than three times as many supermarkets as their peers who lived in poorer neighborhoods.
In contrast, poorer neighborhoods had more small grocery stores, convenience stores without gas stations and specialty food stores such as meat markets and fruit and vegetable markets. Fast-food restaurants were also more common in the low-medium and medium-wealth neighborhoods than in the areas of highest wealth, and the number of bars and taverns decreased as a neighborhood's wealth increased.
In addition, neighborhoods with predominately white residents had four times as many supermarkets as those with predominately black residents, but fewer small grocery stores or convenience stores. Also, full-service restaurants, carryout eating places and other food service establishments were more prevalent in racially mixed and predominately white neighborhoods than in predominately black neighborhoods. In fact, carryout specialty stores such as Baskin-Robbins ice cream shops or Starbuck's coffee shops were 9 to 11 times more prevalent in racially mixed and predominately white areas.
"Our findings suggest that some people may be disadvantaged in terms of food availability within their local food environment," the researchers report.
"The choices people make about what to eat are limited by the food available to them," the authors write. "The lack of private transportation and supermarkets in low-wealth and predominately black neighborhoods suggests that residents of these neighborhoods may be at a disadvantage when attempting to achieve a healthy diet."
The study was partly funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.