Is the Focus on Food Deserts Fruitless? Retail Access and Food Purchases across the Socioeconomic Spectrum

98 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2016 Last revised: 20 Oct 2016

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

Date Written: October 9, 2016

Abstract

Using novel data describing the healthfulness of household food purchases and the retail landscapes consumers face, we measure the role of access in explaining why wealthier and more educated households purchase healthier foods. We find that spatial differences in access, though significant, are small relative to spatial differences in the nutritional content of sales. Socioeconomic disparities in nutritional consumption exist even among households with equivalent access, and the healthfulness of household consumption responds minimally to improvements in local retail environments. Our results indicate that access-improving policies alone will eliminate less than one third of existing socioeconomic disparities in nutritional consumption.

Keywords: Health, Income, Education, Inequality, Spatial Analysis, Food Access, Food Deserts, Nutritional Disparities

JEL Classification: I14, R22, H51

Suggested Citation

Handbury, Jessie and Rahkovsky, Ilya M. and Schnell, Molly, Is the Focus on Food Deserts Fruitless? Retail Access and Food Purchases across the Socioeconomic Spectrum (October 9, 2016). Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics Working Paper No. 2016-08, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2854329

Jessie Handbury

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 (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Economics ( email )

2003 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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