An Analysis of the Relationship Between Food Deserts and Obesity Rates in the United States
Morris, Katherine Dawn
Thomas, Adam T
Defined as large geographic areas where residents have limited access to grocery stores and therefore to healthy food, food deserts are thought to contribute to poor diets, especially among people with low incomes and limited mobility. In 2009, the Economic Research Service (ERS) at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) delivered a report to Congress that included the Food Desert Locator database, which provided a nationwide quantitative standard for categorizing a census tract as a food desert. In this study, I aggregate these data to the county level in order to conduct a cross-sectional analysis of the relationship between food desert intensity and obesity rates. I find that, while there is a positive and statistically significant relationship between these two variables, the magnitude of this relationship is too small to be impactful. These results suggest that the USDA's Food Desert Locator may have some promise as a nationwide measure, but they also suggest the need for additional testing and improvement in order to enhance its utility as a guide for policymaking.
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