Food Deserts Aren’t the Main Driver of Bad Diets: Study

The Lempert Report: A new report shows it’s not about the store as much as it is about food education.

I just hate the term "food deserts," for a lot of reasons. And now the people at RAND Corp. offer me another reason and proof that we need to take a different path if we want to change the healthy eating landscape.

RAND’s study, called Does Where You Shop or Who You Are Predict What You Eat, takes an in-depth look at the role of stores and individual characteristics in dietary intake—and what they found may surprise you.

Their research conducted household interviews with 1,372 individuals randomly selected from two low-income, predominantly African American neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. Participants reported their sociodemographic characteristics, food shopping behavior and dietary intake. Both food shopping frequency at different types of food stores and sociodemographic characteristics showed significant associations with diet in adjusted regression models. 

More frequent shopping at convenience and neighborhood stores, and factors such as being younger, male, without a college degree and receiving SNAP benefits, were associated with greater intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), added sugars and discretionary fats—no surprise.

Factors such as being older, male and having a college degree were associated with greater intake of fruits and vegetables. Again, no surprise. 

But here’s the surprise: Food shopping behavior accounted for much less variance, and little unique variance, in SSBs, added sugars and discretionary fats in models with sociodemographic characteristics. As a predictor of unhealthy food consumption, social and demographic factors were nearly twice as important as where a person shopped for food. 

Their findings reinforces the need for policies and interventions at both the environmental and individual levels to improve diet in food desert residents. It’s not about the store as much as it is about food education.


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