Easy Access Doesn't Always Equal Better Food Choices

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Does having easy access to supermarkets affect people's food choices?  You'd think that if you have good access to things like fruits and vegetables, you're less likely to go for fast-food or other convenience items that have a long shelf life.  But a new study says that income and proximity to fast food restaurants actually matter more than proximity to supermarkets in the battle against obesity.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, looked at the diets of over 5,000 men and women in big U.S. cities over a 15-year period.   "The researchers found that living near fast-food restaurants was associated with a greater consumption of fast food, especially, in this case, among low-income men. But the scientists also found that easy access to supermarkets was not linked to a greater consumption of healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and whole grains." 

Other studies have found similar results- living close to a supermarket doesn't mean you eat more fruits and vegetables.  Why not?  Well, when you enter a supermarket, you still have to make choices about what to purchase.  It's easy to assume people will choose healthy foods if they have access to them. But if you're surrounded by unhealthy, cheaper, pre-packaged foods when you walk in the door, that might end up being what fills your cart. 

Many stress that a comprehensive plan of education is what's needed.  It's not just about moving fast-food restaurants away from people or adding more fruits and vegetables to the front of the supermarket.  What's important is educating people about how to make healthy choices, while at the same time making those choices more affordable, especially in low-income areas.  It's also important that people of all income levels have access to a wide variety of healthy foods.  I know where I live, the selection at grocery stores varies widely depending on where you go. 

Solutions could involve government or private subsidies for healthy foods, community outreach, and more.  If you can't afford to buy produce at the store, why not try growing your own?  I've recently discovered that growing some of my own veggies is not only cost-effective, it's easy.    

What do you think?  Do you have other suggestions for how to deal with this issue?