What Drives Nutritional Disparities? Retail Access and Food Purchases Across the Socioeconomic Spectrum

46 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2015

See all articles by Jessie Handbury

Jessie Handbury

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School

Ilya M. Rahkovsky

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - Economic Research Service (ERS)

Molly Schnell

Northwestern University - Department of Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 10, 2015

Abstract

The poor diets of many consumers are often attributed to limited access to healthy foods. In this paper, we use detailed data describing both the healthfulness of household food purchases and the retail landscapes facing consumers to measure the role that access plays in explaining why some people in the United States eat more nutritious foods than others. We first confirm that households with lower income and education purchase less healthful foods. We then measure the spatial variation in the average nutritional quality of available food products across local markets, revealing that healthy foods are less likely to be available in low-income neighborhoods. Though significant, spatial differences in access are small and explain only a fraction of the variation that we observe in the nutritional content of household purchases. Systematic socioeconomic disparities in household purchases persist after controlling for access: even in the same store, more educated households purchase more healthful foods. Consistent with this result, we further find that the nutritional quality of household purchases responds very little to changes in the retail environment, especially among households with low levels of income and education. Together, our results indicate that policies aimed at improving access to healthy foods in underserved areas will leave most of the socioeconomic disparities in nutritional consumption intact.

Suggested Citation

Handbury, Jessie and Rahkovsky, Ilya M. and Schnell, Molly, What Drives Nutritional Disparities? Retail Access and Food Purchases Across the Socioeconomic Spectrum (July 10, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2632216 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2632216

Jessie Handbury (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Ilya M. Rahkovsky

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - Economic Research Service (ERS) ( email )

355 E Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024-3221
United States
202-694-5104 (Phone)
202-694-5688 (Fax)

Molly Schnell

Northwestern University - Department of Economics ( email )

2003 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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