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Distance to a food store and access to vehicles both play roles in food access

Monday, August 5, 2019

Limited access to the healthy and affordable foods stocked in supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores may impede some Americans from achieving a healthy diet. How far someone lives from these food stores and whether the shopper has access to a vehicle are important components of food access. ERS researchers identified low-income census tracts in 2015 that also had low food access based on distance to a supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store and access to a vehicle. (See chart note for definitions of low income and low food access.) In 2015, five States (Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia had the highest shares of low-income/low-food-access census tracts (more than 24 percent of each State’s total tracts) using the ERS measure. Vermont and Hawaii had the lowest shares of low-income/low-food-access tracts—6.0 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively. This chart appears in the ERS report, Understanding Low-Income and Low-Access Census Tracts Across the Nation: Subnational and Subpopulation Estimates of Access to Healthy Food, May 2019.

Consumers in much of the United States had access to a third food store within 20 miles of their homes in 2015

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Distance from a person’s home to the nearest food store (supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store) indicates the ease of access to a major source of a variety of healthful foods. However, a food store with no close-by competitors may not offer the best price, quality, or selection of products. ERS researchers used a variety of data sets to calculate distances between households’ residences and the nearest and third-nearest food stores for U.S. census tracts. Census tracts where the population-weighted center of the tract (i.e., based on where people live within the tract) was within 5 miles of the nearest food store and between 10 and 20 miles from the third-nearest food store were concentrated in the Midwest and portions of the eastern half of the United States. The majority of census tracts where the population-weighted center was within 5 miles of the nearest food store, but more than 20 miles from the third-nearest food store were in portions of the Great Plains section of the Midwest and the Southwest. This chart appears in “U.S. Shoppers’ Access to Multiple Stores Varies by Region” in the June 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program served 2.7 million children in 2018

Friday, July 5, 2019

In 2018, USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provided meals to approximately 2.7 million children on an average operating day in July, the peak month for program operations. Meals were served at 49,795 USDA-approved sites. These sites are eligible to offer free USDA-funded meals and snacks if the sites operate in areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level, or if more than half of the children served by the site meet this income criterion. Schools, libraries, camps, parks, playgrounds, housing projects, community centers, churches, and other public locations where children gather in the summer all qualify as USDA-approved sites. Enrichment activities are often offered along with the meals and snacks. Many low-income children also obtain free meals while school is out through the Seamless Summer Option of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Charts topic page on the ERS website, updated in June 2019.

Southern States had highest shares of low-income and low-food-access census tracts in 2015

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Some Americans and some neighborhoods have limited access to the variety of healthful foods offered by food stores (supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores). A recent ERS study examined food store access by State in terms of what share of the census tracts in each State were both low income and had low access to food stores. (See chart notes for definitions of census tracts, low income, and low food access.) States with the greatest shares of low-income/low-access tracts tended to be in the South, reflecting that region’s higher poverty rates relative to other regions. In three States—Arkansas, Mississippi, and New Mexico—more than 25 percent of tracts were low income and low access in 2015. In that same year, less than 5 percent of the tracts in New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia were low income and low access. This chart appears in the ERS report, Understanding Low-Income and Low-Access Census Tracts Across the Nation: Subnational and Subpopulation Estimates to Access to Healthy Food, May 2019.

Food stores—except specialized food stores—grew in number between 2009 and 2014

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The numbers of different types of food stores and changes in those numbers over time have implications for the economic well-being of communities for reasons related to employment opportunities, tax revenues, and business development. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of grocery stores in the United States grew by 4 percent to 65,975, and the number of convenience stores grew by 4 percent as well to 124,879. Supercenters and warehouse club stores saw their numbers jump by 18 percent to 5,307 stores in 2014, while specialized food stores (bakeries, seafood markets, dairy stores, etc.) saw a 6-percent decline in store numbers. Preference for one-stop shopping by some consumers may be influencing the increase in supercenters and warehouse club stores and the decline in specialized food stores. ERS’s Food Environment Atlas provides a spatial overview of a county’s food retailing landscape by mapping the number and density of these four store types. This chart is from “County-Level Data Show Changes in the Number and Concentration of Food Stores” in the May 2018 issue of ERS’ Amber Waves magazine.

Distance to grocery stores and vehicle access affect low-income shoppers’ food spending

Monday, April 30, 2018

Difficulty accessing large grocery stores may increase a household’s reliance on smaller stores and restaurants, possibly resulting in a diet of low-nutritional quality and related health problems. ERS researchers used data captured in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine if differences in how far low-income households live from large grocery stores and whether they own a car influences their food spending behaviors. Among low-income households, the researchers found that access-burdened and sufficient-access households spent similar shares of their weekly food spending at grocery stores (57-58 percent) and at small grocery, ethnic, and specialty food stores (3-5 percent). Differences between the two low-income access groups did arise in spending at convenience, dollar, drug, and other small stores and at eating places. Access-burdened households spent a higher share of their food expenditures at convenience, dollar, drug, and other small stores than sufficient-access households and a smaller share of their food budgets at eating places. In 2012, 26.4 percent of U.S. households were low-income sufficient-access households and 4.7 percent were low-income access-burdened. This chart is from "Distance to Grocery Stores and Vehicle Access Influence Food Spending by Low-Income Households at Convenience Stores," in the March 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Number of U.S. fast food restaurants grew by 9 percent between 2009 and 2014

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

People’s access to both grocery stores and eating out places may influence their food choices and diet quality. Easy-to-access retailers and restaurants that sell less healthy foods may lead to greater consumption of these foods. Data from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas show that the number of fast food restaurants in the United States—establishments where customers generally order or select foods and pay before eating—grew from 210,692 in 2009 to 228,677 in 2014. Part of this 9-percent growth reflects the growing popularity of more upscale chains featuring soups, sandwiches, or ethnic foods. The U.S. county with the largest increase in new fast food restaurants was Los Angeles County, California, followed by Cook County, Illinois. Los Angeles County added 680 new fast food restaurants (a 10-percent increase) from 2009 to 2014, and Cook County added 426 new fast food restaurants (an 11-percent jump). Between 2009 and 2014, 163 U.S. counties saw more than 50 percent growth in fast food restaurants. This map appears in "ERS’s Updated Food Environment Atlas Shows an Increase in Fast Food Restaurants Between 2009 and 2014" in the December 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Distance to grocery stores and vehicle access influence where low-income households shop for food

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Households that struggle to get to large grocery stores may rely on close by sources of food such as convenience stores or fast-food restaurants that generally provide a smaller variety of healthy foods. A recent ERS study used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine if food shopping behaviors of access-burdened households—those that live more than 0.5 of a mile from a SNAP-authorized supermarket or superstore and do not have a vehicle—differ from households that live within 0.5 of a mile of these stores or have their own vehicle (sufficient-access households). Looking only at SNAP and low-income non-SNAP households, the researchers found that 74 percent of access-burdened households visited a supermarket, superstore, or large grocery store during an average week in 2012, compared to 85 percent of sufficient-access households. Access-burdened households did not appear to substitute convenience stores and restaurants for visits to large grocers; only 63 percent of access-burdened households visited an eating place compared with 78 percent of sufficient-access households, and differences in convenience store visits were not statistically significant. The data for this chart are drawn from the ERS report, The Influence of Food Store Access on Grocery Shopping and Food Spending, released on October 18, 2017.

Lower income people still fall short of protein consumption recommendations in world’s three most food-insecure regions

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Improvements in average diets are welcome developments, but lower income households continue to fall short of nutritional targets. A closer look at consumption of protein, fat, and fruits and vegetables for the three most food-insecure regions—Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Latin America and Caribbean (LAC), and Asia (minus the Commonwealth of Independent States countries)—reveals insufficient food access for the lowest income groups in all regions. The disparity between low-income versus high-income intake levels within each region is particularly pronounced in the case of proteins. Here, average daily consumption in all three regions studied is close to the recommended level of 10 percent of total diets, with SSA’s consumption falling slightly below the threshold. While the highest income decile has a protein share 20 percent above the target, the lowest income consumers are 20-30 percent below, with the lowest level in LAC, followed by SSA. This example illustrates that food security is not only linked to a country’s average income levels, but also, importantly, to how this income is distributed within the country. While average incomes in LAC are higher than in SSA and Asia, income distribution is more unequal, leaving the lowest income households more vulnerable to food insecurity. This chart appears in the ERS International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27 report, released on June 30, 2017.

Global food insecurity is projected to decline across all regions by 2027

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Given projections for low food prices and rising incomes, food security is expected to improve through 2027 for 76 low- and middle-income countries covered by ERS’s International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27. The share of the population in the 76 countries that is food insecure, defined as not having access to at least 2,100 calories per day, is projected to fall from 17.7 percent in 2017 to 8.9 percent in 2027, with the number of food-insecure people declining from just below 650 million to about 370 million. Food security indicators differ greatly by region. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of food-insecure people, with 31.7 percent of the population food insecure in 2017. That share is projected to drop to around 20 percent of the region by 2027 as incomes rise. Asia is projected to significantly reduce its share of food insecure people by 2027 to less than 5 percent, a near three-fold decrease from the current 13.5 percent. Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to improve as well, but to a lesser degree. The most food secure region included in the study remains North Africa, which is expected to have only 1.3 percent of its population experiencing food insecurity by 2027. This chart appears in the ERS International Food Security Assessment, 2017-27 report, released on June 30, 2017.

More children participated in USDA’s Summer Food Service Program in 2016

Thursday, June 8, 2017

In 2016, USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provided meals to 2.8 million children on an average operating day in July, the peak month for program operations. This was a 7.7-percent increase from 2015’s July participation. Meals are served at a wide variety of USDA-approved sites including schools, camps, parks, playgrounds, housing projects, community centers, churches, and other public sites where children gather in the summer. Sites are eligible to offer free USDA-funded meals and snacks if the sites operate in areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level, or if more than half of the children served by the site meet this income criterion. In 2016, 47,981 sites offered summer meals, about 400 more than in 2015. Many low-income children also obtain free meals while school is out through the Seamless Summer Option of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Summer Food Service Program topic page on the ERS Web site, updated May 22, 2017.

Number of low-income, low-supermarket-access census tracts in urban areas rose from 2010 to 2015, but declined in rural areas

Monday, April 24, 2017

Efforts to encourage Americans to improve their diets presume that a wide variety of nutritious foods are available to all. But, for some areas and people, access to healthy food may be limited by the lack of supermarkets and financial resources. ERS’s Food Access Research Atlas allows users to map low-income and low-supermarket-access (LILA) census tracts in 2010 and 2015. One access measure considers a low-income tract to be LILA if at least 500 people, or at least 33 percent of the population, live more than 1 mile from the nearest supermarket in urban tracts or more than 10 miles in rural tracts. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of urban LILA tracts increased by 5 percent, while the number of rural LILA tracts decreased by 5 percent. Much of the increase in urban LILA tracts is attributed to a rise in the number of low-income areas—perhaps a casualty of the 2007-09 recession—rather than reduced access. This chart is from "Low-Income Areas With Low Supermarket Access Increased in Urban Areas, But Not in Rural Areas, Between 2010 and 2015" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, April 2017.

Updated ERS Atlas allows users to map low-income and low-supermarket access areas

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Limited access to healthy and affordable food may impede some Americans from achieving a healthy diet. ERS’s Food Access Research Atlas provides a common measure of neighborhood access to healthy, affordable food for the entire Nation. The Atlas allows users to map low-income and low-supermarket access census tracts for 2015 and compare the results with those for 2010. Individuals can choose four measures of low-supermarket access based on residents’ distances from the nearest supermarket (more than 0.5 or 1 mile in urban areas or more than 10 or 20 miles in rural areas) and vehicle access. One measure considers a tract to be low-income and low-access if it is low-income and contains a substantial number of vehicle-less households that live more than 0.5 miles from the nearest supermarket. Using this measure, the number of low-income and low-access census tracts in Wayne County, Michigan, rose 35 percent from 2010 to 2015. Twenty-two percent of Wayne County households lived in these tracts in 2015, and 4 percent of them lived more than 0.5 miles from a supermarket and did not have a vehicle. This map was created using ERS’s Food Access Research Atlas, updated January 17, 2017.

Food acquisition locations differ by household income and SNAP participation

Monday, August 1, 2016

Understanding where U.S. households acquire food, what they acquire, and what they pay is essential to identifying which food and nutrition policies might improve diet quality. USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) provides a complete picture of these key aspects during a 7-day period in 2012 by including both food at home and food away from home acquisitions. Higher-income households are more likely to visit large grocery stores (88 versus 83 percent) and small or specialty food stores (20 versus 14-15 percent) than households that participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and lower-income non-SNAP households. SNAP households are more likely to report an acquisition in the ‘all other stores’ category compared with both non-SNAP groups (51 versus 39-41 percent), which includes convenience stores, gas stations, and pharmacies. Considering food away from home, SNAP households are least likely to visit restaurants/other eating places when compared to lower-income non-SNAP and higher-income households. In addition, a larger share of SNAP households obtain food from schools (20 percent) than lower-income non-SNAP households (12 percent) and higher-income households (14 percent). Finally, higher-income households are twice as likely to get food from work than the other two groups, which is not surprising given their greater employment rates. The data for this chart can be found in the ERS report, Where Households Get Food in a Typical Week: Findings from USDA’s FoodAPS, released on July 27, 2016.

Alternative food assistance program operates in Native American tribal areas

Friday, December 11, 2015

USDA provides healthful foods to low-income households in Native American tribal areas through its Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). Due to access reasons, some households participate in FDPIR as an alternative to USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Warehouses, tribal stores, and local sites are used to distribute the USDA foods. Households living on tribal lands that qualify for food assistance can switch between SNAP and FDPIR on a month-to-month basis. ERS researchers calculated distances to SNAP-authorized supermarkets and FDPIR outlets in American Indian Tribal Areas, Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Areas, and Alaska Native Village Statistical Areas. They found that 30 percent of children, 29 percent of working-age adults, and 28 percent of older adults in these tribal areas lived 1 mile or less from a SNAP-authorized supermarket or a FDPIR outlet in 2010. Nationally, 58 percent of children and 57 to 60 percent of adults lived 1 mile or less from a supermarket or large grocery store in 2010. This chart appears in “Measuring the Food Access Gap in Native American Tribal Areas” in ERS’s December 2015 Amber Waves magazine.

ERS's Food Access Research Atlas reveals areas in the United States where people live far from supermarkets

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Limited access to sources of healthy and affordable food may make it harder for some Americans to eat a healthy diet. Distance from one’s home to a retailer offering a wide variety of fresh, canned, and frozen foods is an often-used measure of food access. USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas maps several measures of food access, including low-income census tracts where a large number or share of the residents live 10 miles or more from a supermarket or large grocery store. In the example map of north central Nebraska and south central South Dakota, low-income tracts shaded light orange contained at least 500 people or at least one-third of the population who lived more than 10 miles from the nearest supermarket in 2010. Low-income tracts shaded dark orange contained a significant number or share of residents who lived more than 20 miles from a supermarket. Nationally, about 2.1 million people lived in low-income census tracts and were at least 10 miles from the nearest supermarket in 2010 and over 300,000 lived more than 20 miles from the nearest supermarket. This map is from the Food Access Research Atlas on the ERS website.

WIC households favor supercenters for their primary grocery shopping

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Data from a new USDA-funded survey, National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), show that households that participate in USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are more likely to use supercenters for their primary food shopping than non-WIC comparison households (non-participating households that contain either a pregnant woman or a child under the age of 5). Over half of WIC households (52 percent) used a supercenter for their main food shopping, compared with 45 percent of non-WIC comparison households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold and 41 percent of higher-income non-WIC comparison households. Because WIC households are larger and more likely to contain multiple young children compared with non-WIC comparison households, WIC households may be more enticed to shop at supercenters in order to purchase larger-sized products or take advantage of one-stop shopping. This chart appears in “Most U.S. Households Do Their Main Grocery Shopping at Supermarkets and Supercenters Regardless of Income” in the August 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Nearly one-third of SNAP participants use someone else's car, walk, bike, or take public transit for their grocery shopping

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Data from USDA’s new National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (or FoodAPS) show that most U.S. households use their own vehicles for their primary food shopping. However, households that participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are more likely to rely on someone else’s car, walk, bike, or take public transit than households with incomes above the poverty thresholds. Sixty-eight percent of SNAP participants used their own cars for food shopping, compared to 83 percent of non-SNAP households with incomes between 101 and 185 percent of poverty and 95 percent of households with incomes above 185 percent of poverty. Travel modes of non-participants with income below the poverty line are similar to those of SNAP households. Among SNAP households, 19 percent reported using someone else’s car to do their primary shopping, and 13 percent walked, biked, or used a shuttle or public transportation. How one travels to a grocery store can influence what gets purchased; traveling by bus or walking limits purchases to what can be carried or pulled in a cart. A person needing to borrow someone else’s car—or share a ride to a store—may not be able to shop as frequently or at the times when food supplies are running low. This chart is from the ERS report, Where Do Americans Usually Shop for Food and How Do They Travel to Get There?, March 2015.

Native Americans live farther from large grocery stores than the average American

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A recent ERS study used 2010 data to compute distances to the nearest large grocery store (annual sales of $2 million or more) for individuals living in 3 types of U.S. tribal areas: Alaska Native Village Statistical Areas, Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Areas, and American Indian Tribal Areas. Individuals were ordered by how far they lived from a large grocery store. Upon ranking individuals across the United States in this way, researchers found that the median distance to the closest large grocery store was 0.8 miles, compared to 3.3 miles for individuals living in tribal areas. At the 20th percentile, the distance from an individual’s residence to the nearest large grocery store was 0.3 miles for all U.S. individuals and 0.8 miles for tribal area individuals. More remote U.S. households, those at the 80th percentile, were 2.2 miles away from a large grocery store compared to 9.9 miles for the similar percentile of households living in tribal areas. This chart appears in “Native Americans Living in Tribal Areas Face Longer Trips to the Grocery Store” in the April 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

U.S. food shoppers do not usually shop at the closest grocery store

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A new survey funded by USDA, the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (or FoodAPS), asked the main food shopper of the household where they did most of their food shopping. Researchers compared the distance to this store to the distance to the nearest supermarket or supercenter authorized to accept benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-SM/SC). Researchers found that on average, all households—those receiving food assistance and those not—bypass the SNAP-SM/SC closest to their home to shop at another store, which may or may not be SNAP authorized, for their main grocery purchases. The average SNAP participant lived 1.96 miles from the nearest SNAP-SM/SC, but traveled 3.36 miles to their primary store for food shopping. WIC-participating households were 1.92 miles from the nearest SNAP-SM/SC, but traveled 3.15 miles to do their main grocery shopping. Non-poor households traveled 3.98 miles, while the closest SNAP-SM/SC was 2.21 miles from their home. Store proximity may be important, but price, quality, and selection also affect where households shop. In addition, households may food shop on their way home from work or other activities. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS report, Where Do Americans Usually Shop for Food and How Do They Travel to Get There?, released on March 23, 2015.

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