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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Spatial Distribution of Food Outlet Type and Quality around Schools in Differing Built Environment and Demographic Contexts


Safe and convenient access to healthy foods for all populations is a fundamental transportation and environmental justice concern. Emerging evidence suggests that residents of lower income communities have less access to healthy food choices than those in higher income areas. Most studies to date rely on an as- sumed level of food quality generalized across different types of food outlets (e.g., grocery versus convenience stores) mapped in space. The current study includes a detailed audit of food quality offered in 302 food establishments in four communities in the Atlanta Region and compares proximity to these outlets in differing urban and demographic settings. The analyses focus on a middle and elementary school in each community and compare the spatial relationships between schools and sit-down and fast food restaurants and between grocery and convenience stores. Road network distances from school sites to each food outlet were calculated in a geographic information system. Results suggest that food quality varies across neighborhoods by income, but not by walkability. Results also suggest the potential for food quality to vary differentially with distance from schools in higher versus lower income communities. Walking or biking to get food is difficult in auto-oriented envi- ronments which has important implications on sustainability. Youth, elderly, and other populations which do not drive are more reliant on the food choices offered in their immediate environments, such as in schools or assisted living facilities. Methods employed can be expanded to examine associations between food outlet quality, urban form, travel and activity patterns, dietary behavior, and health outcomes.

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