Understanding Accessibility to Snap-Accepting Food Store Locations: Disentangling the Roles of Transportation and Socioeconomic Status
Research suggests that spatial inaccessibility to food stores adversely affects the health status of individuals living in predominantly low income or racial minority geographic areas. Previous studies examining geographic accessibility to food stores have focused on defining ‘food deserts’ using a variety of methods to map and quantify inaccessibility. However, the ability to afford and purchase healthy food must also be considered, and a scan of recent research reveals few studies that have accounted for the role of government assistance programs and how this might impact people’s accessibility. In this paper, we analyze specific at-risk populations’ accessibility to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) accepting locations using GIS-based estimates of specific personal transportation costs. In the U.S., the SNAP program attempts to alleviate food insecurity among low-income groups who qualify for assistance. We focus on understanding the relative accessibility of potentially vulnerable demographic populations as captured at the Census block group level and their potential ability to reach SNAP accepting food store locations. A mid-sized city in Florida is used as a test case. Network-based approaches are employed using GIS to gauge accessibility in terms of walking, automobile, and public transit modes. Ultimately, we seek to better understand possible differences in accessibility across socioeconomic groups, emphasizing characteristics such as vehicle ownership, race, and income, while recognizing the importance of the SNAP program. Findings suggest that higher income, high vehicle access, and white populations are more accessible to food opportunities than lower income, low vehicle access, and African American populations and potential policy implications of this work include whether certain transportation costs should be subsidized for individuals receiving SNAP benefits.