Report: Supermarket Access Unchanged Since 2006

WASHINGTON — Overall access to supermarkets did not change from 2006 to 2010, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.

Based on figures from the most recent census, “Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Updated Estimates of Distance to Supermarkets Using 2010 Data” found that 85% of Americans lived within three miles of the nearest supermarket, the same percentage as in 2006.

The report also said 80% of Americans lived within five miles of three supermarkets in 2010.

At the same time, not all segments of the population share equal access to supermarkets. Across the general population and in urban areas, low-income Americans and those living in low-income neighborhoods tend to live closer to supermarkets than their moderate- and high-income counterparts. The opposite is true in rural areas.

"While there are many low-income areas with supermarket access limitations, our results show that for some indicators, access limitations may be greater outside of low-income areas. For example, moderate/high-income areas contain a greater number and share of households without vehicles that are far from food stores than do low-income areas," the study authors wrote.

"Moderate- and high-income areas also contain a greater number and share of low-income people who are far from stores. Results from this study show that focusing only on low-income areas will miss access limitations of those who do not have a vehicle or are poor but do not live in low-income areas."

The number of Americans in low-income areas living within half a mile of a supermarket rose from 22.9 million in 2006 to 36.1 million in 2010. However, researchers said this was likely due to the significant increase in areas designated as low-income rather than any change in the number or location of supermarkets.

In urban areas, white residents tend to live farther from supermarkets than most minority residents.

The researchers also examined access to supermarkets based on which households owned vehicles. The households living less than half a mile to a supermarket without a vehicle increased from 5 million in 2006 to 5.4 million in 2010. The increase was even more pronounced in low-income areas, spiking from 1.9 million households to 2.9 million.

The number of households without a vehicle and within a half-mile and a mile to a supermarket fell from 3.4 million to 2.7 million, while those without a vehicle living greater than one mile to a supermarket dropped from 2.4 million to 2.1 million.

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