Change in an urban food environment within a single year: Considerations for food-environment research and community health

Sean C Lucan, Andrew R Maroko, Aurora Jin, Aixin Chen, Charles Pan, Geohaira Sosa, Clyde B Schechter
Preventive Medicine Reports 2020, 19: 101102
Past research on food-environment change has been limited in key ways: (1) considering only select storefront businesses; (2) presuming items sold based on businesses category; (3) describing change only in ecological terms; (4) considering multi-year intervals. The current study addressed past limitations by: (1) considering a full range of both storefront and non-storefront businesses; (2) focusing on items actually offered (both healthful and less-healthful varieties); (3) describing individual-business-level changes (openings, closings, changes in offerings); (4) evaluating changes within a single year. Using a longitudinal, matched-pair comparison of 119 street segments in the Bronx, NY (October 2016-August 2017), investigators assessed all businesses-food stores, restaurants, other storefront businesses (OSBs), street vendors-for healthful and less-healthful food/drink offerings. Changes were described for individual businesses, individual street segments, and for the area overall. Overall, the number (and percentage) of businesses offering any food/drink increased from 45 (41.7%) in 2016 to 49 (45.8%) in 2017; businesses newly opening or newly offering food/drink cumulatively exceeded those shutting down or ceasing food/drink sales. In 2016, OSBs (gyms, barber shops, laundromats, furniture stores, gas stations, etc.) together with street vendors represented 20.0% and 27.3% of businesses offering healthful and less-healthful items, respectively; in 2017, the percentages were 31.0% and 37.0%. While the number of businesses offering healthful items increased, the number offering less-healthful items likewise increased and remained greater. If change in a full range of food/drink availability is not appreciated: food-environment studies may generate erroneous conclusions; communities may misdirect resources to address food-access disparities; and community residents may have increasing, but unrecognized, opportunities for unhealthful consumption.

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