The relationship between diet and perceived and objective access to supermarkets among low-income housing residents

Caitlin E. Caspi, Ichiro Kawachi, S. V. Subramanian, Gary Adamkiewicz, Glorian Sorensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


In the U.S., supermarkets serve as an important source of year-round produce (Chung & Myers, 1999), and yet access to supermarkets may be scarce in "food deserts," or poor, urban areas that lack sources of healthy, affordable food (Cummins & Macintyre, 2002). This study examined objective distance to the nearest supermarket and participant-report of supermarket access in relation to fruit and vegetable intake. Street-network distance to the closest supermarket was calculated using GIS mapping. Perceived access was assessed by a survey question asking whether participants had a supermarket within walking distance of home. Cross-sectional survey data were collected from 828 low-income housing residents in three urban areas in greater-Boston. Generalized estimating equations were used to estimate the association between perceived and objective supermarket access and diet. Fruit and vegetable consumption was low (2.63 servings/day). Results suggest that most low-income housing residents in greater-Boston do not live in "food deserts," as the average distance to a supermarket was 0.76 km (range 0.13-1.22 km). Distance to a supermarket was not associated with fruit and vegetable intake (p = 0.22). Perceived supermarket access was strongly associated with increased fruit and vegetable intake (0.5 servings/day) after controlling for socio-demographic covariates (p < 0.0001). Patterns of mismatch between perceived and objective measures revealed that mismatch between the two measures were high (31.45%). Those who did not report a supermarket within walking distance from home despite the objective presence of a supermarket within 1 km consumed significantly fewer fruits and vegetables (0.56 servings/day) than those with a supermarket who reported one, even after controlling for socio-demographic variables (p = 0.0008). Perceived measures of the food environment may be more strongly related to dietary behaviors than objective ones, and may incorporate components of food access not captured in objective measures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1254-1262
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Food access
  • Health behaviors
  • Low-income housing
  • Neighborhood
  • Objective measures
  • Perceived measures
  • USA


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