Public Health Nutrition: 11(4), 413–420
Neighbourhood fruit and vegetable availability and
consumption: the role of small food stores in an urban
J Nicholas Bodor1, Donald Rose1,*, Thomas A Farley1, Christopher Swalm1and
Susanne K Scott2
1Department of Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Tulane University,
1440 Canal Street, Suite 2301, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA:2College of Public Health, Division of
Epidemiology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA
Submitted 15 September 2006: Accepted 26 April 2007: First published online 6 July 2007
Objective: Previous studies on the relationship of dietary intake to the neigh-
bourhood food environment have focused on access to supermarkets, quantified
by geographic distance or store concentration measures. However, in-store food
availability may also be an important determinant, particularly for urban neigh-
bourhoods with a greater concentration of small food stores. This study synthe-
sises both types of information – store access and in-store availability – to
determine their potential relationship to fruit and vegetable consumption.
Design: Residents in four census tracts were surveyed in 2001 about their fruit and
vegetable intake. Household distances to food stores in these and surrounding
tracts were obtained using geographical information system mapping techniques.
In-store fruit and vegetable availability was measured by linear shelf space.
Multivariate linear regression models were used to measure the association of
these neighbourhood availability measures with consumption.
Setting: Four contiguous census tracts in central-city New Orleans.
Subjects: A random sample of 102 households.
Results: Greater fresh vegetable availability within 100m of a residence was a
positive predictor of vegetable intake; each additional metre of shelf space was
associated with 0.35 servings per day of increased intake. Fresh fruit availability
was not associated with intake, although having a small food store within this
same distance was a marginal predictor of fruit consumption.
Conclusions: The findings suggest the possible importance of small neighbour-
hood food stores and their fresh produce availability in affecting fruit and vege-
Fruit and vegetable intake
Neighbourhood food environment
A growing body of research in public health and nutrition
has addressed the role of environments in shaping dietary
behaviour and health outcomes1–4. Studies examining the
neighbourhood food environment have focused mainly
on access to supermarkets as an influence on consump-
tion. For example, Morland et al. found that with each
additional supermarket in a census tract, fruit and vege-
table intake increased5. Rose and Richards showed that
increased supermarket access was a positive predictor of
fruit consumption among participants in the US Food
Stamp Program6, while Laraia et al. found that pregnant
women living in closer proximity to a supermarket con-
sumed higher-quality diets7.
The ‘in-store environment’ and its effect on consump-
tion has also been the subject of considerable research,
but has been confined almost exclusively to the field of
marketing. This literature provides a number of studies
that have shown how in-store availability can affect
consumers’ purchasing behaviours8–10. Curhan found that
increasing the amount of space dedicated to fresh pro-
duce items in a supermarket resulted in higher sales of
fresh fruit and vegetable items10. Additional papers have
found a correlation between the availability of particular
foods in the surrounding neighbourhood and the repor-
ted consumption of such foods11–13.
Underlying the hypothesis that improved access to
stores improves consumption of certain products is the
assumption that such stores contain these products.
Researchers interested in fruit and vegetable consumption
have studied access to supermarkets, since these stores
*Corresponding author: Email email@example.com
r The Authors 2007
typically have well-stocked produce departments. Smaller
neighbourhood food stores have more limited produce
availability and their selection
between stores14. But such stores may play an important
role in the consumption patterns of low-income con-
sumers with limited access to transportation and could be
particularly important for small fill-in shopping for per-
ishable items, like produce. To further the understanding
of the impact of the neighbourhood environment on
consumption, in particular the influence of small food
stores, the present exploratory study integrates two types
of information – access to food stores and in-store avail-
ability of specific products – into the same predictive
model of consumption.
This research was conducted in 2001 in New Orleans.
The study site was selected in an area of the city that is
typical of older urban areas throughout the country in
which stores are within walking distances of residences.
The study focused on the consumption of fruits and
vegetables, which is appropriate given their documented
importance for health15–19and because of the inadequacy
of their consumption, especially among low-income
populations20,21. In New Orleans, only 19% of individuals
met the US ‘5-a-day’ recommendation. Of 105 metropo-
litan areas in the country, the New Orleans area ranked
92nd on this statistic22.
This study was conducted in June and July of 2001. Four
contiguous census tracts were selected in central-city New
Orleans, Louisiana. Nearly 6000 people resided in these
tracts; 65.2% of the population was African American and
39.5% lived below the poverty line23,24. These tracts were
chosen because they contained a diversity of socio-eco-
nomic and racial/ethnic groups and exhibited high levels
of land-use mix, with small neighbourhood stores inter-
mingled with residences. The relatively close proximity of
residences to stores found in these tracts is common to
many urban neighbourhoods in the country, and made this
geographic area especially conducive to the study of small
food stores and their potential impact on consumption. A
random sample of household phone numbers was sys-
tematically selected from this area. The phone numbers
were obtained from Powerfinder, version 1.3 (InfoUSA,
Inc., 2001). Telephone interviews were conducted with a
respondent from each household, usually the primary
shopper of each residence, or if they were not available,
another adult of the household. Two hundred and eight
households were contacted, of which 111 agreed to be
interviewed. Nine of the cases were missing household
address information, leaving a final analytic sample of 102
households. All data were collected by graduate-level
nutrition and dietetic students.
Fruit and vegetable intake
Fruit and vegetable intake was determined using an
instrument to elicit recall of fruit and vegetable con-
sumption in the previous 24 hours. This instrument was
incorporated into the telephone-administered ques-
tionnaire and listed a set of commonly consumed fruits
(specifically apples, bananas, oranges and grapes) and
vegetables (specifically lettuce, dark leafy greens, toma-
toes, carrots, green beans and cabbage). Respondents
were asked to indicate whether or not each of these
specific fruit and vegetable items were consumed during
the previous 24 hours and the number of servings they
had consumed. A serving was defined as a single fruit or
vegetable item or the approximate size of a hand made
into a fist. The respondents were also prompted to indi-
cate up to two ‘other’ fruits and two ‘other’ vegetables
they had consumed that were not one of those listed
above. The instrument did not take into account fruits or
vegetables from mixed dishes. Our intake variables were
determined by summing the number of servings of fruits
and the number of servings of vegetables. Fruit and
vegetable intakes were examined separately since pre-
vious research has found that food access predictors may
affect the intake of these foods differently6.
Information on the demographic characteristics of the
household and car ownership was also collected in the
household survey. This included the gender, age and
race/ethnicity of the respondent, and the household size
and income. Race/ethnicity was categorised into African
American, White, Latino, Asian, or other. Since only a
small number of Latino and Asian respondents were
found in the sample, they were combined into the ‘other’
category. Respondents identified their annual household
income as being in one of seven ranges (e.g. $0–$4999,
$5000–$9999, etc.). A poverty-index ratio (PIR) was cal-
culated by dividing the midpoint of the income range,
selected by the respondent, by the US 2001 poverty
threshold for the size of their household25. Households
were divided into three income groups: those in poverty
(PIR,1); those with incomes above the poverty line but
still qualifying for some food assistance programmes,
like WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for
Women, Infants,and Children)
(1#PIR,1.85); and those with a PIR of 1.85 or above.
Respondents were also asked whether anyone in the
household received food stamps, participated in the WIC
programme, or received some other form of food assis-
tance. In addition, information was collected on whether
someone in the household owned a car.
Food store access
All of the food stores listed for 2001 in the Louisiana
Office of Public Health’s (OPH) list of food retailers
414 JN Bodor et al.
within or bordering the study’s four census tracts, along
with supermarkets that were within 5km of the tract
borders, were included in our analysis (n524) of store
access. No supermarkets were located within the study
tracts. To be comprehensive in our description of store
access, it was necessary to include supermarkets beyond
the tract borders, since previous research has indicated
the importance of supermarkets for consumption5–7,26.
The completeness of the OPH database was verified by
driving around the study neighbourhoods and visually
locating all of the food retailers. Stores were categorised
into two groups – small food stores and supermarkets,
based on codes in the OPH database for annual gross
sales. Stores with a code indicating sales greater than
$5000000 were classified as supermarkets, while stores
with sales less than $1000000 were classified as small
food stores. None of the food retailers in our study area
had codes indicating annual sales between $1000000 and
$5000000. All stores and household residences were
geocoded using ArcGIS, version 8.3 (ESRI, Inc., 2003) and
straight-line distances from each household to each store
Previous research on food store access and consump-
tion has used either distance to store6,7or density
measures5. Our analyses included both types of measures
by using the geographical information system (GIS)-
generated distances to construct two variables describing
small food store access: distance to the nearest small food
store in kilometres and a dichotomous variable indicating
the existence of a small food store within 100 metres of
the household residence. This latter access variable can
be seen as a measure of small food store density, i.e.
the number of stores within a specified radius of
the respondent’s residence. The distance of 100 metres
was selected because it represented the approximate size
of a city block. Even though the primary focus of this
study was to examine small food store access, similar
supermarket access measures were also created con-
sidering that prior studies have indicated their impor-
tance. Two variables were constructed to represent
supermarket access: distance to nearest supermarket in
kilometres and a dichotomous variable indicating the
existence of a supermarket within 1000 metres of the
household. Since supermarkets were located outside the
study tracts, their density measure necessitated a larger
radius. We used dichotomous expressions for all of the
density variables both for simplicity and because most
cases took on values of zero or one.
Store surveys were performed to determine in-store fruit
and vegetable availability. Information on linear shelf
space devoted to fruits and vegetables and the number of
fresh produce varieties available within each store was
obtained for 15 small food stores and three supermarkets.
Trained observers used measuring wheels to determine
shelf space lengths. This measurement was done sepa-
rately for fresh, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.
Information on fresh produce varieties was gathered by
counting the number of varieties available for individual
fruits items (specifically apples, bananas, grapes and
oranges) and individual vegetable items (specifically let-
tuce, dark leafy greens, cabbage, green beans, tomatoes
and carrots). Data from the surveyed small food stores
were used to impute availability values for one small food
store for which we did not have in-store data. The
imputed values for this store were calculated by taking
the average of the fruit and vegetable availability mea-
surements for all the other small food stores.
The neighbourhood availability measures synthesised
information on food store access and in-store availability.
These measures were constructed by summing all of the
shelf space devoted to fresh fruits or fresh vegetables in
all small food stores within 100m of the household resi-
dence. Thus, one variable reflected availability of fresh
fruits within a block distance of a household and the
other variable represented fresh vegetable availability
within the same distance. Similar neighbourhood avail-
ability variables were created for total fruit and total
vegetable shelf space, i.e. the sum of fresh, canned and
frozen shelf space lengths, and fresh fruit and fresh
vegetable varieties within 100m. These neighbourhood
availability measures were an adaptation of the ‘cumula-
tive accessibility potential’, a GIS modelling concept that
measures the magnitude of availability (e.g. amount of
shelf space) while accounting for the travel distance to
each source27. Only small food store fruit and vegetable
availability data were used to create these measures.
Since the immediate neighbourhood environment around
the household was the focus of our study, we did not
include shelf space from supermarkets in these avail-
ability measures, as the nearest supermarket to any
resident was 0.8km.
Differences in mean fruit and vegetable intake by various
demographic, socio-economic and access variables were
assessed using t-tests for dichotomous variables, with a
type I error rate of a,0.05. Analysis of variance was used
for variables with more than two categories (i.e. age,
race/ethnicity and income). Post hoc testing using the
least significant difference was used to determine differ-
ences in intake with the reference category of these
variables (Table 3) when the main effect was significant.
Multivariate linear regression analysis was used to
assess the association of consumption with neighbour-
hood store access and food availability variables, while
Fruit and vegetable availability and consumption 415
controlling for household demographic factors. Separate
equations were estimated for fruits and for vegetables.
Because previous research on access and consumption is
so limited, the literature gives little guidance concerning
which dimensions of access are important. For example,
although studies have documented the importance of
supermarket density5and distance to the nearest super-
market6,7, there is no indication as to whether or not shelf
space of all fruits, shelf space of fresh fruits, or the
number of different varieties of fresh fruits are important
dimensions of neighbourhood availability. Thus, we tes-
ted hypotheses concerning each of these dimensions of
access and availability in separate, but equivalent, models
that controlled for the same set of demographic and
socio-economic variables. This set included gender, eth-
nicity and age of the individual, as well as car ownership,
income of the household and food assistance programme
participation. Our models on neighbourhood fruit and
vegetable availability also controlled for distance to the
nearest supermarket. Data management and statistical
analyses were performed using SPSS, version 12.0 (SPSS,
The socio-economic characteristics of the study sample
are shown in Table 1. The majority of the respondents
were female and over half of the sample was African
American. Thirty-one per cent of households had annual
incomes below the poverty threshold, and 19% had
someone in their household who received some form of
governmental food assistance. Over 70% of respondents
owned a car or had someone in their household who
Information on fruit and vegetable availability in the
neighbourhood food stores is shown in Table 2. Mean
fruit and vegetable shelf space was considerably larger for
supermarkets (174m) than for small food stores (11m).
This discrepancy was especially apparent for fresh pro-
duce items, in which supermarkets had greater amounts
of shelf space than small food stores, 121m of shelf space
vs. 4m. It was also seen in relative terms; 70% of fruit and
vegetable shelf space was allocated to fresh produce in
supermarkets, as opposed to 32% in small food stores.
Supermarkets also offered a considerably larger number
of varieties of fresh produce than did small food stores
(36 vs. 4).
Mean fruit and vegetable intake by socio-economic
characteristics and neighbourhood access measures are
shown in Table 3. In most cases, socio-economic char-
acteristics were not related to fruit and vegetable con-
sumption. One exception was for female respondents,
who consumed 3.1 servings of vegetables per day, sig-
nificantly higher than the 2.2 servings consumed by male
respondents. Associations of consumption with food
assistance and car ownership were marginally significant.
For example, respondents whose households received
food assistance consumed, on average, 2.8 servings of
fruits per day compared with 1.9 for those whose
households did not (P50.055). Those who owned a car
consumed, on average, 3.0 servings of vegetables per
day, while those who did not consumed 2.3 servings
Respondents who had a small food store within 100m
had a significantly higher mean intake of vegetables and a
marginally significant higher mean intake of fruits
(P50.083). Having a supermarket within 1000m did not
significantly affect intake. Respondents with no fresh
vegetable shelf space available within a block of their
residence had the lowest mean intake of vegetables (2.4
servings per day), those who had up to 3m of fresh
Table 1 Socio-economic characteristics of the study sample
Household receives food assistance
Owns a car
Table 2 Fruit and vegetable availability in neighbourhood food
Product Small food stores (n515) Supermarkets (n53)
Mean shelf space in metres (SD)
Mean number of fresh varieties (SD)
SD – standard deviation.
416 JN Bodor et al.
vegetable shelf space within a block had a higher intake
(3.3 servings), while those who had greater than 3m of
fresh vegetable shelf space within a block had the highest
intake (4.5 servings). A similar dose–response relation-
ship was not seen for fruits.
Multivariate estimates of consumption were made
using separate linear regression models for fruits and
vegetables and for each of our neighbourhood access
measures (Table 4). All of the models controlled for the
basic set of household variables. Distance to the nearest
small food store or distance to the nearest supermarket
was not associated with fruit or vegetable consumption.
Our density measure of small food store access, i.e.
having a small food store within 100m, was a marginally
(P50.090); but none of the measures of neighbourhood
fruit availability – i.e. those that considered the amount of
fruit shelf space, or the number of varieties near the
of fruit consumption
residence – were significant predictors of fruit intake.
Conversely, the amount of fresh vegetable shelf space
near the residence was a significant positive predictor of
vegetable intake; each extra metre of shelf space was
associated with an additional intake of 0.35 servings per
day. Other measures of neighbourhood vegetable avail-
ability, including total vegetable shelf space and number
of fresh vegetable varieties, were positive marginally
significant predictors of intake.
The main objective in this paper was to explore the
relationship between neighbourhood food availability
and consumption through the use of more refined mea-
sures of availability, specifically measures that combine
information on both store access and in-store contents.
Our study investigated the immediate neighbourhood of
households in central-city New Orleans, surveying fruit
and vegetable availability within 100m, or about one city
block, of their residences. Our analysis shows a positive
association of neighbourhood vegetable availability,
measured in linear shelf space, with reported vegetable
intake. A positive association was not seen for fruit shelf
space with fruit intake, although access to a small food
store within 100m of the residence was marginally asso-
ciated with an increased fruit intake.
Interestingly, no association was found between intake
and access to supermarkets, which differs with prior
research in this area5–7. The null finding may be related to
the specific context of this study. Although there was not
a supermarket located within any of the four census tracts
studied here, supermarkets were not far away. Moreover,
there was little variability in the distance to the nearest
supermarket. The average distance that each household
needed to travel to reach their closest supermarket was
1.3km, while the furthest anyone had to travel was
1.7km. Even though over a quarter of respondents did
not own a car, it is possible that most households were
able to get to a supermarket for large food shopping trips
and then relied on their neighbourhood small food stores
for ‘fill-in’ shopping trips. Prior research has found that a
significant proportion of low-income households who
report supermarkets as their main source for food also
shop at smaller neighbourhood stores26. Among our
study participants, the nearness of a small food store and
the availability of fresh vegetables in these stores may
have been important factors when they needed to
replenish smaller amounts of perishable foods between
their opportunities to go to a supermarket.
Although the amount of fresh vegetable shelf space
within a short distance of the household’s residence was
important in predicting vegetable intake, a similar result
was not found for fruits. There are a number of possible
explanations for this finding. There may have been less
Table 3 Mean fruit and vegetable intake by socio-economic
characteristics, food store access and neighbourhood availability
Mean consumption in
servings per day (SD)
or access/availability measureFruitsVegetables
Receives food assistance
Owns a car
Small food store within 100m
Supermarket within 1000m
Fresh fruit shelf space within
Fresh vegetable shelf space
SD – standard deviation.
-The first category is the reference group.
Fruit and vegetable availability and consumption417
variability among small food stores in the amount of shelf
space dedicated to fruits, the number of fruit varieties,
and/or the quality of the fruit produce as compared with
vegetables. Another possibility is that residents relied on
supermarkets, rather than small food stores, for the
purchasing of fruits, for reasons of quality and/or price.
Thus the neighbourhood fruit availability measures
would not be significant predictors of intake, since
no supermarket was located in the immediate neigh-
bourhood of the study households. Finally, there could
be less variability in apparent fruit intake than vegetable
intake, either because of the actual behaviour of
respondents or because of this study’s fruit and vegetable
This indicates one possible limitation of our analysis.
Overall, 56% of the sample ate two or more fruits and 54%
ate three or more vegetables per day, which are higher
than average in the USA and considerably higher than the
averages for poor Americans. Although it is possible that
within this small sample the respondents actually had
higher-than-average intakes of fruits and vegetables, it is
also possible that the design of the fruit and vegetable
survey instrument caused inflated intake results. If our
instrument caused differential reporting by a third vari-
able related to access, one might also be concerned about
bias in our analytical results on the relationship of access
and intake. For example, one might posit that higher
income or higher educated respondents might overstate
consumption in order to provide more ‘socially desirable’
answers to our fruit and vegetable questions. If these
groups also had better access, the relationship between
access and intake would have been biased upwards.
However, the specific area for our neighbourhood study
was very mixed, both socio-economically and racially. We
tested and found no significant differences in access or
availability by household income or race/ethnicity, thus
making it unlikely that our instrument contributed to this
type of bias in the relationship between intake and
A second limitation of this study is the response rate.
Despite attempts to encourage respondent participation
by explaining clearly in the survey script that all respon-
ses would remain confidential, about half of households
chose not to participate. In comparing characteristics of
our study sample with data from the 2000 Census of the
same tracts, we found that the percentage of African
Americans was somewhat lower in our sample (53.5%)
than in the Census data (65.2%). The same was true for
poverty rates (31.0% vs. 39.5%). As with many surveys,
response rates were lower among the poor, which indi-
cates that results should be interpreted with caution28.
Another limitation is that data were collected from a
small sample confined to a single geographic section of
New Orleans. Most households experienced relatively
similar exposure to food stores, particularly super-
markets. Future research in this field would benefit from a
larger sample and observations on a wider geographic
area with more diverse micro-environments. Additionally,
respondents were not asked about their level of educa-
tion and the in-store observations did not obtain infor-
government food assistance programmes. Continuing
research in this area would benefit from data collected on
Finally, because of the cross-sectional nature of our
study, causality between the association of neighbour-
Table 4 Regression models results on relationship of food store access and neighbourhood availability to fruit and vegetable consumption
Consumption of fruits (servings per day)Consumption of vegetables (servings per day)
Access/availability measureb SEMP-valueb SEMP-value
Food store access-
Distance to nearest small food store--
Distance to nearest supermarket--
Has small food store within 100m
Has supermarket within 1000m
Fresh fruit shelf space in 100m
Total fruit shelf space in 100m
Fresh fruit varieties in 100m
Fresh vegetable shelf space in 100m
Total vegetable shelf space in 100m
Fresh vegetable varieties in 100m
b – regression coefficient; SEM – standard error of the mean.
-Each measure of food store access was the independent variable in a separate linear regression model that also controlled for gender, ethnicity, age, income,
food assistance participation and car ownership of the respondent. Dependent variables were total fruit and vegetable consumption in the previous 24hours.
--The variables distance to nearest small food store and distance to nearest supermarket are both in km.
yEach measure of neighbourhood availability was the independent variable in a separate linear regression model that had all of the same control variables as
above as well as distance to nearest supermarket. The neighbourhood availability measures reflect only the in-store contents of small food stores since no
supermarkets were within 100m of the households. Dependent variables were total fruit and vegetable consumption in the previous 24hours.
418 JN Bodor et al.
hood availability and intake cannot be inferred. Research
based on a longitudinal design, or on a ‘natural experi-
ment’, could yield more conclusive results. For example,
Wrigley et al. used a longitudinal design in the UK to
investigate the emergence of a new supermarket in a
former ‘food desert’ and found there to be significant
increases in fruit and vegetable consumption29,30. A
similar design could be used to investigate the effects of
increased fruit and vegetable access through the adding
of more fresh produce shelf space in local food stores.
Creating incentives for small storeowners to stock more
fresh produce may help achieve this.
While much of the prior literature has focused on
access to supermarkets and its potential influence on
dietary intake, this study suggests that access to urban
small food stores and their in-store availability of foods
may also play a role in affecting diet, in particular vege-
table intake. The potential benefits of greater local fruit
and vegetable availability may be especially pronounced
for poor households without private transportation, who
may have a greater reliance on nearby small food stores.
exploratory in nature; future studies involving a larger
sample and covering a wider geographic area are needed.
Neighbourhood availability measures similar to the ones
developed for this study could be used in such future
research. Additionally, research on policies to promote
greater fresh produce availability in small food stores
could further our understanding of how neighbourhood
availability affects fruit and vegetable consumption
among urban residents.
findings, our studywas
Sources of funding:
by a grant from the National Research Initiative of the US
Department of Agriculture.
Conflict of interest declaration:
interest to declare.
ceptualised and designed jointly by J.N.B., D.R. and T.A.F.
Data collection was supervised by T.A.F. and S.K.S. C.S.
conducted the geographical information system mapping.
J.N.B. and D.R. conducted the data analysis. J.N.B. and
D.R. led the write-up of the paper with all authors
We thank Stephanie Tortu and
Jodi Zighelboim for their help in the development of the
This research was supported in part
There is no conflict of
Thestudy was con-
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