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Food Desert Fixes: Do They Work

Sat, August 12, 4:30 to 5:30pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 520A

Abstract

In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in research on the consequences of “food deserts” (geographic areas that lack easy access to healthy food). Much of this scholarship evaluates the relationship between lack of healthy food retail options and poor health outcomes. Although the conventional wisdom and political consensus assumes that narrowing the distance between people and nutritious food will lead to improved diets (i.e. the proximity thesis), there is little academic support for this causal argument. To show how this is the case, I survey a number of recent large scale retail interventions (installing supermarkets in food deserts) that have produced little to no change in consumption of healthier foods. I then test the proximity thesis in one food desert neighborhood (West Greenville, SC) that is representative of other communities featured in relevant food desert scholarship. I do this by assessing the impact of three small scale retail interventions (a mobile farmers market, a neighborhood market, and a “local food” grocery) that have moved into West Greenville in the past 5 years. Data collected from customer surveys show that the vast majority of shoppers did not live in the food deserts in which these interventions are located. These findings contribute to the growing consensus that distance is not the most salient variable for understanding how and why people consume healthy (or unhealthy) foods.

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