Making the Case

Why Healthy Food Access Matters
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 40 million people live in neighborhoods without easy access to fresh, affordable, and nutritious food options. Accessing healthy food can mean multiple bus rides while carting groceries and children, or scrambling to find someone with a car who is willing to drive to the nearest market. This problem affects residents in both urban and rural parts of the US--it is estimated that 4.6 million people live in rural areas without access to a full service grocery store. These areas are greatly in need of reliable transportation, in addition to the jobs and economic activity that grocery stores and healthy food retail can provide.

The good news is that healthy food access projects have been proven to revitalize local economies, expand access to healthy food, and improve health across the United States. Ensuring access to healthy food is an important element of an equitable food system, one in which those most vulnerable and those living in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and rural and tribal communities can fully participate, prosper, and benefit. An equitable food system is one that, from farm to table, from processing to disposal, ensures economic opportunity—high-quality jobs with living wages; safe working conditions; access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food; and environmental sustainability. 

The federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative has helped leverage more than $195 million in grants and an estimated $1 billion in additional financing. The initiative has supported 950 grocery and other healthy food retail projects in more than 35 states across the country, revitalizing economies, creating jobs, and improving health. Learn about the 2017 Healthy Food Financing Initiative Grantees.

Who Faces Limited Food Access?

Accessing healthy food is a challenge for too many Americans—particularly those living in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and rural and tribal areas.  

  • Low-income zip codes have 25 percent fewer supermarkets and 1.3 times as many convenience stores as middle-income zip codes. Zip codes with predominately Black residents have about half as many supermarkets as zip codes with predominantly white residents and predominantly Latino areas have only a third as many as predominately White areas.
  • Low-income neighborhoods have half as many supermarkets as the wealthiest neighborhoods, according to an assessment of 685 urban and rural census tracts in three states. The same study found four times as many supermarkets in predominantly White neighborhoods as predominantly Black ones.
  • Nearly one-third of the U.S. population is transportation disadvantaged, meaning they cannot easily access a grocery store, work, or other basic personal and family needs. This is particularly a challenge for people of color and low-income individuals.

Improving Food Access, Creating Economic Opportunities, and Improving Health

To address these issues, healthy food advocates have worked to improve access in both rural and urban communities. Increasing accessibility creates good neighborhood jobs and can be a powerful force of revitalization for disinvested communities. Over the past 20 years—with more than 300 studies completed—it has become clear that people who live in neighborhoods with better access to healthy food also tend to have better nutrition and better health. To learn more, check out the following reports: 

Healthy Food Access: Economic Impact

Healthy food projects and businesses improve the economic health and well-being of communities and can help to revitalize struggling business districts and neighborhoods. In addition to providing jobs across the food system, healthy food businesses also increase or stabilize home values in nearby neighborhoods, generate local tax revenues, provide workforce training and development, and promote additional spending in the local economy.

Creates and Retains Jobs

  • A large, full-service supermarket employs 150 to 200 full- and part-time employees and has weekly sales of $200,000 to $300,000.
  • From 2004 to 2010, the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) approved funding for 88 fresh food retail projects, resulting in more than 5,000 jobs and improving access to healthy food for more than 400,000 residents.
  • A study of six rural stores funded by the Pennsylvania FFFI found that five stores have increased employment in their communities and the sixth is run as a co-op. One store doubled its number of employees, from 48 to 100 workers.

Spurs Community Development

  • Grocery stores act as anchor development, attracting foot traffic and additional retail investment in a community.
  • Many full-service grocery stores engage in community development through local giving programs. In Portland, Oregon, the local New Seasons Market, which has created more than 2,300 local jobs since 2000 citywide, also donated over 1,040 tons of food to Oregon food banks, contributed 10 percent of after-tax profits back to local nonprofits, and volunteered over 360 hours of local community service.

Increases Property Values 

  • A study of the impacts of supermarkets in Philadelphia indicates that the opening of a supermarket leads to increased housing values in the nearby community. In one Philadelphia neighborhood, housing values saw an immediate boost, ranging from a 4 to 7 percent increase after the opening of a supermarket.

Promotes Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs

  • Grocery stores, corner stores, and farmers markets that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits bring federal dollars into communities. This, in turn, produces economic benefits for stores, and spurs broader economic stimulus across states, regions, and the nation. Specifically, every $5 in new SNAP spending generates as much as $9 of economic activity

Healthy Food Access: Health Impact

Access to healthy food is a critical component of a healthy, thriving community. Improving healthy food access has been shown to be an effective measure in improving healthy eating habits and lowering the risk for diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and obesity.

Lower Risk for Diet-related Diseases

  • Neighborhood access to healthy food and safe places for physical activity matters for children’s weight. Children living in neighborhoods with healthy food and safe play spaces are 56 percent less likely to be obese than children in neighborhoods without these features.
  • Adults living in neighborhoods with supermarkets and grocery stores have lower obesity rates (21 percent) as compared to those living in neighborhoods with no supermarkets (32 to 40 percent). In Los Angeles, a study found a correlation between the distance traveled to a grocery store and body mass index (BMI)—longer distances are associated with higher BMI.

 Healthier Eating

  • Adults with no supermarkets within a mile of their homes are 25 to 46 percent less likely to have a healthy diet than those with the most supermarkets near their homes.
  • Residents are more likely to meet dietary guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption when they live in a census tract with a supermarket. For African Americans, produce consumption increases by 32 percent when they have these amenities.