Beyond Food Desert: the Importance of Market Structure, Consumer Characteristics and Travel Behavior in Food Access

Authors: Yang Bao*, University of Arizona
Topics: Marketing Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography
Keywords: food desert, individual access, market structure, consumer characteristics, travel behavior
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Bacchus, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The prevalence of diet-related diseases in low-income communities has raised significant concerns about public health and social inequity. An increasing amount of academic research as well as government and private efforts have been focused on identifying food deserts – low-income areas lack of access to affordable healthy food – and formulating policy initiatives to improve accessibility. However, most food access assessments underpinning policy-making are exclusively area/neighborhood based measures recoding home-store distance under the assumption that the closest stores to place of residence are used by consumers. Little is known on whether and how these measures differ from individual level “actual” access. Using travel diary data, this paper provides a pilot study on actual food access by the general population at individual level. It explores how people’s destination choices of grocery shopping are jointly shaped by market structure, consumer characteristics, daily activity and travel behavior, in addition to neighborhood food environment. The study reveals significant discrepancies between the widely used area-based accessibility measure and the actual access in real life. It has important policy implications and offer insights on how to effectively design intervention programs for food access improvement.

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