Food Access and Availability

Although it has long been known that dietary intake is influenced by food access, researchers historically considered access to be a function of just household income and food prices. Tulane Nutrition's research expanded on this theory by integrating the fields of geography, food marketing, consumer economics, and community nutrition to develop a new conceptual framework on how the neighborhood retail food environment influences dietary choices and obesity. Emphasizing neighborhood food availability, racial-ethnic inequities, and income levels, our research provides a more nuanced view of food consumption behavior and highlighted the importance of interventions which include geographic access as a focus. Our work continues to seek innovative solutions to address the issue of food access through community-based research and partnerships.

Fostering Equitable Food Access and Healthy Eating Through Social Innovation and Policy Initiatives: In collaboration with The Food Trust, we promoted creative approaches to expanding access to nutritious foods through the National Center for Healthy Food Access. This national initiative serves as a catalyst to share learning and test new ideas. As part of the Center for Healthy Food Access, we supported local organizations working through the food system in New Orleans to tackle common challenges through innovation. Our findings about the innovative food and nutritional work happening in New Orleans are accessible through our Resource Guide. Previously, we worked with the Tulane University Prevention Research Center and other local partners to form the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee, which advised the City of New Orleans on policy alternatives to improve food access after Hurricane Katrina. This ultimately resulted in the Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, a major local investment to fund groceries in underserved areas. Most recently, we’ve reflected on the contributions to food access made by social innovation in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and the lessons that can be learned from this local experience.

Links Between Food Access and Consumption: We have written a number of papers on the links between food access and consumption. An early paper examined the connection between food store access and household fruit and vegetable use among participants in the Food Stamp Program. Another early paper further analyzed the interplay between store access, in-store availability of specific foods, and fruit and vegetable consumption. Other papers examined the links between the neighborhood food environment and weight status. In a symposium sponsored by the American Society for Nutrition, we highlighted several studies that developed new techniques for characterizing the food environment, analyzed its influence on consumption and weight status, and explored alternative policy options for interventions.

Inequities in Food Access: This research examined historical racial-ethnic inequities in food access in New Orleans, emphasizing the powerful effects of Hurricane Katrina. By assessing supermarket counts in the entire city, utilizing New Orleans census tract data, and evaluating the situation in several periods after the storm, our research determined that existing inequities for African-American neighborhoods worsened after Hurricane Katrina and slowly improved over the past decade.

Domestic Food Security: Our early research studied the economic determinants and dietary consequences of domestic food insecurity and hunger. We examined the association between food insecurity and overweight status in young school children as well as the connection between food insufficiency and the intake of various nutrients. Our research highlighted the importance of food insecurity and hunger indicators, further validated the use of self-reported measures and pointed to areas of need for future research and interventions. We also showed how a rights-based approach can be used to address the food insecurity problem. Through this research, we have defined trends regarding food availability and accessibility in various settings, from low-income communities to college campuses. This body of research also provides insight into how a rights-based approach can be used to address the food insecurity problem.