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To examine associations between geographic measures of retail food outlets and perceived availability of healthy foods.
A predominantly rural, eight-county region of South Carolina, USA.
Data from 705 household shoppers were analysed using ordinary least-squares regression to examine relationships between geographic measures (presence and distance) of food outlets obtained via a geographic information system and perceived availability of healthy foods (fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat foods).
The presence of a supermarket within an 8·05 km (5-mile) buffer area was significantly associated with perceived availability of healthy foods (β=1·09, P=0·025) when controlling for all other food outlet types. However, no other derived geographic presence measures were significant predictors of perceived availability of healthy foods. Distances to the nearest supermarket (β=−0·16, P=0·003), dollar and variety store (β=−0·15, P=0·005) and fast-food restaurant (β=0·11, P=0·015) were all significantly associated with perceptions of healthy food availability.
Our results suggest that distance to food outlets is a significant predictor of healthy food perceptions, although presence is sensitive to boundary size. Our study contributes to the understanding and improvement of techniques that characterize individuals’ food options in their community.
Fruit and vegetable (F&V) intake is influenced by behavioural and environmental factors, but these have rarely been assessed simultaneously. We aimed to quantify the relative influence of supermarket availability, perceptions of the food environment and shopping behaviour on F&V intake.
A cross-sectional study.
Eight counties in South Carolina, USA, with verified locations of all supermarkets.
A telephone survey of 831 household food shoppers ascertained F&V intake with a seventeen-item screener, primary food store location, shopping frequency and perceptions of healthy food availability, and supermarket availability was calculated with a geographic information system. Path analysis was conducted. We report standardized beta coefficients on paths significant at the 0·05 level.
Frequency of grocery shopping at primary food store (β = 0·11) was the only factor exerting an independent, statistically significant direct effect on F&V intake. Supermarket availability was significantly associated with distance to utilized food store (β = −0·24) and shopping frequency (β = 0·10). Increased supermarket availability was significantly and positively related to perceived healthy food availability in the neighbourhood (β = 0·18) and ease of shopping access (β = 0·09). Collectively considering all model paths linked to perceived availability of healthy foods, this measure was the only other factor to have a significant total effect on F&V intake.
While the majority of the literature to date has suggested an independent and important role of supermarket availability for F&V intake, our study found only indirect effects of supermarket availability and suggests that food shopping frequency and perceptions of healthy food availability are two integral components of a network of influences on F&V intake.
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