For households with severe financial constraints, prices are a primary aspect in determining what foods they purchase. The shoppers who lacked resources were much more cognizant of food prices and less so of food store access, according to the researchers. When both price and demographic factors were considered, the impact of food access was even more insignificant. Price conscientiousness may account for households passing the store closest to them for ones that offer lower prices.
The Amber Waves article examined two recent studies that tested how dietary choices are affected when a new supermarket opens in “food deserts,” areas with poor access to grocery stores. Research from the Rand Corp. found residents in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood with a new supermarket consumed fewer calories and added sugars than those in a nearby, demographically similar neighborhood that lacked a supermarket. However, the changes were likely due to other factors, as residents who used the new store had similar diets to those who did not. Additionally, fruit and vegetable consumption actually decreased in both neighborhoods, the researchers said.
The results could be attributed to elements of store choice besides proximity. When a new store is built, people will shop there only if it offers the products and prices of which shoppers approve. The store must also compete with existing stores that are further away but close enough to attract customers. Still, even if the new stores do attract most of the neighborhood households, improvements in diet quality are not guaranteed, the researchers said.
The results indicate that improving healthy food access alone will not suffice in attempting to impact consumer diets or majorly reduce diet-related diseases. Options for more effective means of encouraging healthier choices may include lowering transportation costs, subsidies on fruits and vegetables, and educational campaigns, the researchers said.
High product prices coupled with limited incomes, limited consumer knowledge about nutrition, and various food predilections are perhaps more central in determining what foods shoppers will purchase than are poor access to stores.