Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 91, Issue 6, pp 1087–1097 | Cite as

Food Insecurity, Neighborhood Food Access, and Food Assistance in Philadelphia

  • Victoria L. MayerEmail author
  • Amy Hillier
  • Marcus A. Bachhuber
  • Judith A. Long


An estimated 17.6 million American households were food insecure in 2012, meaning they were unable to obtain enough food for an active and healthy life. Programs to augment local access to healthy foods are increasingly widespread, with unclear effects on food security. At the same time, the US government has recently enacted major cuts to federal food assistance programs. In this study, we examined the association between food insecurity (skipping or reducing meal size because of budget), neighborhood food access (self-reported access to fruits and vegetables and quality of grocery stores), and receipt of food assistance using the 2008, 2010, and 2012 waves of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey. Of 11,599 respondents, 16.7 % reported food insecurity; 79.4 % of the food insecure found it easy or very easy to find fruits and vegetables, and 60.6 % reported excellent or good quality neighborhood grocery stores. In our regression models adjusting for individual- and neighborhood-level covariates, compared to those who reported very difficult access to fruits and vegetables, those who reported difficult, easy or very easy access were less likely to report food insecurity (OR 0.62: 95 % CI 0.43–0.90, 0.33: 95 % CI 0.23–0.47, and 0.28: 95 % CI 0.20–0.40). Compared to those who reported poor stores, those who reported fair, good, and excellent quality stores were also less likely to report food insecurity (OR 0.81: 95 % CI 0.60–1.08, 0.58: 95 % CI 0.43–0.78, and 0.43: 95 % CI 0.31–0.59). Compared to individuals not receiving food assistance, those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits were significantly more likely to be food insecure (OR 1.36: 95 % CI 1.11–1.67), while those receiving benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) (OR 1.17: 95 % CI 0.77–1.78) and those receiving both SNAP and WIC (OR 0.84: 95 % CI 0.61–1.17) did not have significantly different odds of food insecurity. In conclusion, better neighborhood food access is associated with lower risk of food insecurity. However, most food insecure individuals reported good access. Improving diet in communities with high rates of food insecurity likely requires not only improved access but also greater affordability.


Environment and public health Nutrition policy Hunger Food assistance 



The authors would like to thank Christopher Wirtalla for assistance with developing Stata programming. V.L.M. was supported with funding from the Division of General Internal Medicine Matt Slap Award from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the National Institutes of Health Institutional Training Grant 5-T32-HP-100296-20-00.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Victoria L. Mayer
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Amy Hillier
    • 3
  • Marcus A. Bachhuber
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
  • Judith A. Long
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of MedicinePerelman School of Medicine, University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Leonard Davis Institute of Health EconomicsUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of City and Regional Planning, School of DesignUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  4. 4.Center for Health Equity Research and PromotionPhiladelphia Veterans Affairs Medical CenterPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars ProgramUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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