Neighborhood dictates diet quality, say researchers

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

The availability of healthy food and quality of diet depends more on where you live than previously thought, according to research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Two studies, one published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​, and the other in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, ​examined the relationship between ethnicity, income level and local availability and consumption of healthy foods.

Researchers found that 43 percent of predominantly black neighborhoods, and 46 percent of lower-income neighborhoods had low availability of healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, skimmed milk, and wholegrain bread. This compared to just four percent of predominantly white neighborhoods, and 13 percent of higher-income areas.

Lead author of the studies Manuel Franco said: “Place of residence plays a larger role in dietary health than previously estimated. Our findings show that participants who live in neighborhoods with low healthy food availability are at an increased risk of consuming a lower quality diet.”

Government recommendations

The researchers surveyed 759 people in the Baltimore area, questioning them about the frequency with which they ate government-recommended healthy foods, and comparing the results to availability.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends consumption of two cups of fruits, two-and-a-half cups of vegetables, at least three ounces of whole grain cereals and three cups of fat-free or low fat milk each day.

Availability of these foods was measured by examining the range of foods available in participants’ closest food stores, as well as all those within a one-mile radius of their homes.

Healthy supplies

Apart from disparities in the number of food stores, the researchers also found that supermarkets in predominantly white and higher-income areas had more healthy food available than those in predominantly black and lower-income neighborhoods.

Another author of these most recent studies Benjamin Caballero said: “Previous studies have suggested that race and income are related to healthy food intake and our choice of foods play a major role in our health and diet. Our studies show that where you live is a major determinant of your health.”

This latest research adds to the significant amount of research already conducted, linking lower income to higher rates of obesity and increased risk of heart disease.

In terms of possible ways to tackle this problem, Caballero said: “The joint efforts of public health researchers in collaboration with community groups and policy makers will be required to effectively change to current picture of the less-than-optimal availability of recommended healthy foods.”

Sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

March 2009, doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26434

“Availability of Health Foods and Dietary Patterns: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis”

Authors: M. Franco, A.V. Diez-Roux, J.A. Nettleton, M. Lazo, F.L. Brancati, B. Caballero, T.A. Glass, L.V. Moore.

American Journal of Preventative Medicine

December 2008, Vol. 35, Issue 6, Pages 561-567

“Neighborhood Characteristics and Availability of Healthy Foods in Baltimore”

Authors: M. Franco, A.V. Diez-Roux, T.A. Glass, B. Caballero, F.L. Brancati.

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