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« Fake Medicine, Food & Toothpaste | Main | Not until those that employ them are carried away »

Grocery Gaps: Shopping for Supper

By Larry James
June 28, 2007

I've said it before, but it seems no one is listening. So, I'll keep saying it: inner city neighborhoods and communities need high-quality, retail grocery shopping opportunities.

We need nice, real, grocery stores - you know, supermarkets - like every other part of the city enjoys. And, we need them now, not later! Sounds fairly mundane, doesn't it? Actually, to the people who put up with the current situation, it is not.

It is very clear to me that any community truly concerned about health improvement and public health outcome disparities will get busy building accessible, quality grocery markets in the low-income parts of town.

Want to cut into public health epidemics like obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes? Then make nutritious food products readily available to everyone.

Robert K. Ross, MD, President and CEO of The California Endowment, and Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO of PolicyLink, put it this way,

"There is an emerging consensus among researchers and practitioners that conditions in the communities where people live--from local economic opportunities, to social interactions with neighbors, to the physical environment, to services such as local stores where people can buy healthy food--all affect health" (Healthy Food, Healthy Communities: Improving Access and Opportunities Through Food Retailing, Fall 2005, page 1).

The current crisis evidenced by our nation's growing "grocery gap," or the widening access disparity between more economically viable communities and low-income neighborhoods when it comes to the availability of good grocery options, has been brewing since the 1960s.

With the advent of middle-class, largely "white flight" from older, central city neighborhoods, developers and city planners turned their attention and almost all of their resources to suburbs, leaving low-income families to struggle with transportation challenges and limited, convenient food purchasing options.

Here are a few of the most important facts that I gleaned from the report referenced above:

  1. Poor families endure poor diets because they lack access to places that sell decent quality, nutritious foods at an affordable price.
  2. Poor folks are forced to opt for food products at corner groceries where prices are high, selection is limited and ending in diets high in fat, sugar and calories.
  3. Middle and upper income communities in Los Angeles County have 2.3 times as many supermarkets per capita as low-income communities; predominately white communities offer 3.2 times as many supermarkets as predominately black neighborhoods and 1.7 times as many as predominately Hispanic communities. Other regional and national studies confirm similar findings for other parts of the country.
  4. Corner grocery stores that dot the inner city can be as much as 49% higher than supermarkets, while offering a poorer selection of food products--very little meat and fresh produce, mostly processed and canned foods.
  5. African Americans living in proximity to at least one supermarket are more likely to meet suggested dietary guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption and for fat intake than their peers who live in neighborhoods without supermarkets.
  6. New grocery supermarkets contribute to the overall economic health of neighborhoods and very often serve as catalysts and anchors for further community renewal.
  7. Traditional market analysis typically undervalue inner city neighborhoods and their economic potential. National data cuts against inner city economic and retail development, whereas more careful local market analysis tends to "prove up" the viability of urban markets.
  8. A classic mistake of much market analysis is to focus on average household income rather than total area income. In countless cases, total area income is shocking to researchers who dig more deeply into the community they are analyzing.
  9. Low-income, inner city neighborhoods actually present major advantages to retail developers who will take the time to learn. These include density of purchasing power, limited competition, and an available labor force.
  10. Most of the time we fail to recognize the "double bottom line" inherent in community-business partnerships. It is very possible to achieve a healthy financial return on investment and realize sustainable and substantial community benefit.

More on grocery stores coming soon...

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