, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 125-133

First online:

In poor health: Supermarket redlining and urban nutrition

  • Elizabeth EisenhauerAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, State University of New York at Buffalo

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Over the past 100 years, ethnic minorities and the poor have become increasingly concentrated and isolated in low-income urban neighborhoods. While the demographic changes in cities are well documented, the parallel history of urban retailing is less well known. Little research has been done on changes in urban food retailing, particularly as they concern the urban poor. As the residential character of urban neighborhoods changed during the 20th century, so did the amenities available in those neighborhoods. The low point for urban retailing was in the 1980s, when cities experienced a net loss of supermarkets even as, nationally, store openings exceeded closings. The trend toward fewer, bigger stores located outside cities has continued to the present. Some critics have referred to this disinclination of large chains to locate in cities as `supermarket redlining'. Changes in food availability are a key element in the changing social conditions of the urban poor and, as good nutrition is critical for good health, a contributing factor in the decline of urban health. This paper will examine changes in urban retail food availability, the impact these changes have had on the health status of the urban poor, strategies utilized by the urban poor to address inadequate access to quality food sources, and the role of supermarkets in distressed communities.

food systems nutrition urban geography urban health retail geography redlining supermarkets