Supermarket incentive programs aim to eliminate disparities in access to healthy food and, by doing so, reduce diet-related chronic diseases. Yet studies show that merely expanding access has no appreciable effect on shopping patterns, food choices, health, obesity, or diet-related diseases.
Dr. Nevin Cohen, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, coauthored a paper with Nathan A. Rosenberg of the University of Arkansas School of Law, examining the emergence of food access as a policy issue, current approaches to increasing food access, and possible alternatives for reducing economic and health disparities within food systems. The article was published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal.
The article notes that, while the majority of high-quality studies examining the relationship between healthy food retail and health outcomes have not found an association between the two, proponents of food access interventions nonetheless continue to rely on the minority of studies showing such a connection. Cohen says this has important policy implications.
“As long as governments and activists continue to assert that physical access to supermarkets is a determinant of healthy food purchasing, diets, and health, initiatives to address the financial and logistical obstacles to healthy food consumption will be more difficult to advance,” Cohen says.
The problem goes beyond food, the authors note, and the goal should be to create policies that build capital within communities and distribute wealth more equitably, while providing living wages and labor standards so that people have time and money to provide for their needs.