Discussion Paper Icon

The Neighborhood Food Environment, Food Stamp Program Participation, and Weight-Related Outcomes of Low-Income Women

Purpose: Using a sample of low-income women, this paper examines whether the availability of food retail and food service establishments in a woman’s neighborhood of residence (her ‘neighborhood food environment’) was associated with food purchase decisions, daily energy intake or weight status. It also explores whether these associations differed for Food Stamp Program (FSP) participants compared to low-income nonparticipants.Data: Restricted-access geocoded data from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was combined with 2007-2008 ZIP Code Business Patterns data measuring the availability of supermarkets, small grocery stores, convenience stores, fast food restaurants and full-service restaurants in a person’s ZIP Code Tabulation Area of residence.Methods: Ordinary Least Squares models of weight-related outcomes were estimated that included an indicator for household FSP participation in the previous year and either a set of separate neighborhood food establishment density variables or neighborhood food environment composite variables formed using factor analysis. All models controlled for a large set of additional individual and environment characteristics.Results: In the models of weight-related outcomes that included separate neighborhood establishment density variables there were very few significant associations between the individual establishment density variables and the outcomes. However, the neighborhood establishment density variables were jointly significantly associated with many of the outcomes. In models including factors, higher neighborhood density of ‘small or quick’ establishments was significantly associated with spending more of the family food budget at grocery stores, eating more fast food meals, less frequent major grocery shopping trips, higher BMI, and a higher likelihood of obesity. Higher neighborhood density of supermarkets and restaurants was associated with significantly fewer fast food meals per week, more frequent major grocery shopping trips, lower BMI, and a lower likelihood of obesity. However, the magnitudes of the estimated relationships suggest that the changes in behavior that would accompany changes in the neighborhood food environment such as the opening of a new supermarket are likely to be quite small. Although FSP participants and low-income nonparticipants appear to respond similarly to neighborhood food environments, FSP participants lived in neighborhoods with a significantly higher mean density of ‘small or quick’ establishments.


Food & Nutrition, Food Assistance, Health, Obesity, Place, Spatial Mismatch