Community Dividend

Healthy food access does indeed matter, report on recent research says

Published January 31, 2014  | January 2014 issue

Having access to nutritious food has positive and measurable effects on individual and community health, according to the bulk of the research featured in a new report from PolicyLink and The Food Trust. Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters: A Review of the Research summarizes the findings of more than 170 studies released in the past three years that examine healthy food access and its effects. The report is a follow up to a 2010 PolicyLink-The Food Trust joint release titled The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters, which reviewed the previous two decades of food-access research.

According to the new report, the majority of the recent evidence on food access supports three main findings. First, despite improvements in some communities, accessing healthy foods is still a challenge for many families. For example, two national studies found that 25 to 30 million Americans, or about 9 percent of the population, live in communities that do not have adequate access to healthy food retailers. Other studies found that access is particularly limited in low-income urban neighborhoods, communities of color, and rural areas, including American Indian reservations. Second, living close to healthy food retail is one of the factors associated with decreased risk of obesity and diet-related diseases. And third, healthy food retailers stimulate economic activity. For example, one study found that 24 jobs are created for every 10,000 square feet of new grocery space, while another found that home values increased by 4 to 7 percent after a grocery store opened nearby.

In addition to a research review, the report contains a discussion of implications for policymakers, an appendix of all referenced studies, and a list of suggested topics for further research. To download the new report and its 2010 predecessor, visit the Publications tab at