Food Access and Individual Behavior: How the Local Food Environment Influences Time Spent on Meal Preparation
Local policies to address food deserts, areas with limited access to healthy food choices, are often premised on the idea that the local food environment affects individual behavior. This study examines the strength of that connection by examining the time spent preparing food, building on the theory that healthier diets generally involve fresher food and more time spent on meal preparation. It uses nationwide data from BLS to define individual factors, and recent data from the RWJF and USDA to define the local food environment.After controlling for relevant personal and geographic characteristics, this study did not find a connection between food deserts, fast food stores, grocery stores, or supercenters, and behavior. However, it did find a positive effect of farmers' markets on the time spent preparing food. The most plausible explanation for these findings is that dietary choices are too complex to be reduced to choices between only two types of foods, or two types of food stores. Policies meant to affect diets, therefore, must consider this complexity.
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