N° 23 | May 2008

Fresh fruit and vegetable availability in neighborhood food stores and its potential influence on consumption

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The intake of fruits and vegetables continues to be inadequate in the general population1, despite their well substantiated benefits2,3. In response to this pattern, an increasing body of research has begun to examine the neighborhood food environment and its potential influence on diet. Prior studies have primarily focused on access to supermarkets and have found positive associations between greater access and improved diet quality4-7. Small neighborhood food stores, which are prevalent in urban environments and are frequently within walking distance, may also influence dietary intake. Such food stores may provide a place for the ‘fill-in’ shopping of perishable items, like fresh produce, and may be especially important for low-income individuals without a car. Little research has been performed assessing the potential influence of small neighborhood food stores on dietary intake. Our research examined this Relationship by studying access to small food stores, their availability of fresh produce, and whether these factors were related to fruit and vegetable intake8.

In the summer of 2001, four adjacent neighborhoods were chosen in New Orleans, Louisiana. This area is typical of many urban mixed-use environments in which neighborhood stores are intermingled with residences. A random sample of résidents living in this area was surveyed on their fruit and vegetable intake and their demographic characteristics. All small food stores in these neighborhoods were geo-mapped, as were all nearby supermarkets. Distances were calculated from each household to each food store. In-store surveys collected data on linear shelf space devoted to fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as the number of fresh fruit and vegetable varieties. Composite measures of ‘neighborhood availability’ were created for each household by summing the amount of fresh fruits and fresh vegetables found in all small food stores within 100 meters of the residence. Similar measures were constructed for the total number of fresh fruit and fresh vegetable varieties within 100 meters. The distance of 100 meters was chosen because it was an approximate size of a city block.

We found that greater fresh vegetable availability within 100 meters of a household was associated with higher vegetable intake. Specifically, each additional meter of fresh vegetable shelf space was associated with a 0.35 servings per day increase in consumption. A similar, but more modest link emerged for the number of fresh vegetable varieties. Each additional variety within 100 meters was associated with a 0.23 servings per day increase in vegetable intake. None of the fresh fruit availability measures were associated with fruit intake. All estimates took into account the demographic characteristics of the respondent, car ownership, and distance to the nearest supermarket. Our analysis did not find supermarket access to be associated with either fruit or vegetable intake.

The findings from our exploratory study suggest that access to neighborhood small food stores and their in-store availability of fresh produce may affect diet, particularly vegetable consumption. Interestingly, unlike prior studies, supermarket access was not related to diet. This may be due to the fact that the residents in the study were within a short driving distance to a nearby supermarket, an average travel distance of 1.3 kilometers. Although many residents did not own a car, most probably went to a supermarket for a large shopping trip and then relied on nearby small food stores for ‘fill-in’ trips, a phenomenon supported by other studies9,10. Thus, in our study sample, the proximity of a neighborhood small food store and its availability of fresh vegetables may have impacted a household’s ability to replenish perishable produce until the next Opportunity to go to a supermarket. Further research is needed, using a larger sample and covering a wider geographic area, to validate the suggestive findings of our study.

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  10. Sokol R. [Survey of 219 low-income persons in health and social service facilities in New Orleans.] April 2007; Unpublished data, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
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