A new study has revealed that introduction of a government-subsidized supermarket within neighborhoods may not result in healthful dietary habits or reductions in childhood obesity, at least in the short term. The study findings suggest that supermarket availability did not result in significant changes in household food availability or children's dietary intake, at least one year after opening for the neighborhood as a whole.
Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center compared two neighborhoods in the Bronx- Morrisania, where a new, government supported, full-service supermarket was placed, and Highbridge, where no new market was built. Caregivers of young children, aged 3 to 10 years, and living in those neighborhoods were surveyed. Shopping and consumption information was collected from them prior to the opening of the market, five weeks after it opened, and again a year after the store opened. They found that while there were small, inconsistent changes in diet over the time periods, there were no appreciable differences in availability of healthful or unhealthful foods at home, or in children's dietary intake due to the presence of the supermarket.
Researcher Dr. Brian D. Elbel said, "Low-income and ethnic minority neighborhoods are undeserved by supermarkets relative to their higher-income counterparts, and it would appear to be logical that increasing availability of healthful foods could improve diets. However, we do not yet know whether or under what circumstances these stores will improve diet and health. Food choice is complex, and the easy availability of lower-priced processed foods and pervasiveness of junk food marketing have implications for behavior change as well. New supermarkets may play an important role, and further work is needed to determine how these policies might be best structured."
However, researchers stress the need for further research to determine whether healthy food retail expansion can improve food choices of children and their families, including where best to place these stores, under what circumstances they will be successful, and with what other policies or programs they should be coupled.
The study appears online in the journal 'Public Health Nutrition'.