Advertisement

GeoJournal

, Volume 81, Issue 3, pp 443–455 | Cite as

Theoretical issues in the ‘food desert’ debate and ways forward

  • Richard Casey Sadler
  • Jason Andrew Gilliland
  • Godwin Arku
Article

Abstract

Food is essential to life—yet the spatial and economic configuration of the conventional food system does not meet nutritional needs and exacerbates issues of food insecurity. Relevant options for policy change have been explored in light of evaluations of geographic disparities in food access, but the dominant ‘food desert’ discourse often focuses uncritically on insufficient conceptions of access. Understanding the complexity of food deserts is important for moving into meaningful policy action. We present a theoretical position to inspire future empirical research. The ecological model recognizes both endogenous and built environment factors in shaping health. Interventions in the food environment, however, often concentrate exclusively on structural determinants of health (e.g. retail-based initiatives). Yet retail-based interventions are difficult to implement due to governance systems which limit the ability of government bodies to influence private retail development. As well, recognizing the complexity of debates over the influence of structure and agency, we apply structuration theory to food deserts. Behavioral economics further informs both structural and behavioral determinants of health. This approach sidesteps the issue of victim-blaming, as all consumers are viewed as ‘predictably irrational’ in decision-making. In combining these theories, we challenge methodological and theoretical assumptions by showing the complexity of food desert interventions. Policy recommendations focus on behavioral determinants of health and the opportunities for empowerment through local food systems. These recommendations recognize the limits of translating research into policy and in devising effective food based interventions, and are sensitive to social, economic, and political constraints uncovered throughout the paper.

Keywords

Food deserts Ecological model of health Structuration theory Behavioral economics Food systems planning Local food networks 

References

  1. Alaimo, K., Packnett, E., Miles, R. A., & Kruger, D. J. (2008). Fruit and vegetable intake among urban community gardeners. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 40(2), 94–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Algazy, J., Gipstein, S., Riahi, F., & Tryon, K. (2010). Why governments must lead the fight against obesity. McKinsey Quarterly: Healthcare Payor and Provider Practice, October, 1–19.Google Scholar
  3. Alkon, A. H., & Mares, T. M. (2012). Food sovereignty in US food movements: Radical visions and neoliberal constraints. Agriculture and Human Values, 29(3), 347–359.Google Scholar
  4. Allen, P. (1999). Contemporary food and farm policy in the United States. In M. Koc, R. MacRae, L. J. A. Mougeot, & J. Welsh (Eds.), For hunger-proof cities. International Development Research Centre: Ottawa.Google Scholar
  5. Allen, P., & Hinrichs, C. (2007). Buying into ‘Buy Local’: Engagements of United States local food initiatives. In D. Maye, L. Holloway, & M. Kneafsey (Eds.), Alternative food geographies: Representation and practice. Elsevier Science: Oxford.Google Scholar
  6. Ashton, D. (2004). Food advertising and childhood obesity. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 97(2), 51–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beaulac, J., Kristjansson, E., & Cummins, S. (2009). A systematic review of food deserts, 1966–2007. Preventing Chronic Disease, 6(3), 1–10.Google Scholar
  8. Bedore, M. (2013). Geographies of capital formation and rescaling: A historical-geographical approach to the food desert problem. The Canadian Geographer, 57(2), 133–153.Google Scholar
  9. Blanchard, T., & Matthews, T. L. (2006). The configuration of local economic power and civic participation in the global economy. Social Forces, 84(4), 2241–2257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Borron, S. M. (2003). Food policy councils: Practice and possibility. Congressional Hunger Center, Hunger-Free Community Report. Eugene, OR: FOOD for Lane County.Google Scholar
  11. Branas, C. C., Cheney, R. A., MacDonald, J. M., Tam, V. W., Jackson, T. D., & Ten Have, T. R. (2011). A difference-in-differences analysis of health, safety, and greening vacant urban space. American Journal of Epidemiology, 174(11), 1296–1306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown, K. H., & Jameton, A. L. (2000). Public health implications of urban agriculture. Journal of Public Health Policy, 21(1), 20–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brownson, R. C., Hartge, P., Samet, J. M., & Ness, R. B. (2010). From epidemiology to policy: Toward more effective practice. Annals of Epidemiology, 20(6), 409–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Byrom, J. W., Bennison, D. J., Hernandez, T., & Hooper, P. D. (2001). The use of geographical data and information in retail locational planning. Journal of Targeting Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, 9(3), 219–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Camerer, C., Issacharoff, S., Loewenstein, G., O’Donoghue, T., & Rabin, M. (2003). Regulation for conservatives: Behavioral economics and the case for “Asymmetric Paternalism”. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 151(3), 1211–1254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Carpiano, R. M., & Daley, D. M. (2005). A guide and glossary on postpositivist theory building for population health. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60(7), 564–570.Google Scholar
  17. Chou, S. Y., Rashad, I., & Grossman, M. (2005). Fast-food restaurant advertising on television and its influence on childhood obesity (No. w11879). National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  18. City of Flint (2013). Imagine Flint Master Plan. Accessed 8 Feb 2015 from http://www.imagineflint.com/.
  19. Coveney, J., & O’Dwyer, L. A. (2009). Effects of mobility and location on food access. Health and Place, 15(1), 45–55.Google Scholar
  20. Cummins, S., Curtis, S., Diez-Roux, A. V., & Macintyre, S. (2007). Understanding and representing ‘place’ in health research: A relational approach. Social Science and Medicine, 65(9), 1825–1838.Google Scholar
  21. Cummins, S., Findlay, A., Petticrew, M., & Sparks, L. (2008). Retail-led regeneration and store-switching behavior. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 15(4), 288–295.Google Scholar
  22. Cummins, S., Flint, E., & Matthews, S. A. (2014). New neighborhood grocery store increased awareness of food access but did not alter dietary habits or obesity. Health Affairs, 33(2), 283–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cummins, S., & Macintyre, S. (2002a). “Food deserts”—evidence and assumption in health policy making. British Medical Journal, 325(7361), 436–438.Google Scholar
  24. Cummins, S., & Macintyre, S. (2002b). A Systematic study of an urban foodscape: The price and availability of food in greater Glasgow. Urban Studies, 39(11), 2115–2130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Cummins, S., Petticrew, M., Sparks, L., & Findlay, A. (2005). Large scale food retail interventions and diet. British Medical Journal, 330(7493), 683–684.Google Scholar
  26. Curtis, S., & Jones, I. R. (1998). Is there a place for geography in the analysis of health inequality? Sociology of Health & Illness, 20(5), 645–672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dean, K. (2004). The role of methods in maintaining orthodox beliefs in health research. Social Science and Medicine, 58(4), 675–685.Google Scholar
  28. DeLind, L. B. (2011). Are local food and the local food movement taking us where we want to go? Or are we hitching our wagons to the wrong stars? Agriculture and Human Values, 28(2), 273–283.Google Scholar
  29. Donald, B. (2013). Food retail and access after the crash: Rethinking the food desert problem. Journal of Economic Geography, 13(2), 231–237.Google Scholar
  30. Dowler, E., & Caraher, M. (2003). Local food projects: The new philanthropy? The Political Quarterly, 74(1), 57–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Downs, J. S., Loewenstein, G., & Wisdom, J. (2009). Strategies for promoting healthier food choices. American Economic Review, 99(2), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Dunn, J. R. (2006). Speaking theoretically about population health. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60(7), 572–573.Google Scholar
  33. Egger, G., & Swinburn, B. (1997). An “Ecological” approach to the obesity pandemic. British Medical Journal, 315(7106), 477–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Escaron, A. L., Meinen, A. M., Nitzke, S. A., & Martinez-Donate, A. P. (2013). Supermarket and grocery store–based interventions to promote healthful food choices and eating practices: A systematic review. Preventing Chronic Disease, 10(120156).Google Scholar
  35. Frohlich, K. L., Corin, E., & Potvin, L. (2001). A theoretical proposal for the relationship between context and disease. Sociology of Health & Illness, 23(6), 776–797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gatrell, A. C., & Elliott, S. J. (2009). Geographies of health: An introduction (2nd ed.). Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  37. Geyskens, K., Pandelaere, M., Dewitte, S., & Warlop, L. (2007). The backdoor to overconsumption: The effect of associating “low-fat” food with health references. American Marketing Association, 26(1), 118–125.Google Scholar
  38. Gittelsohn, J., & Lee, K. (2013). Integrating educational, environmental, and behavioral economic strategies may improve the effectiveness of obesity interventions. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 35(1), 52–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Gortmaker, S. L., Swinburn, B. A., Levy, D., Carter, R., Mabry, P. L., Finegood, D. T., et al. (2011). Changing the future of obesity: Science, policy, and action. Lancet, 378(9793), 838–847.Google Scholar
  40. Green, L. W., Richard, L., & Potvin, L. (1996). Ecological foundations of health promotion. American Journal of Health Promotion, 10(4), 270–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Guthman, J. (2008). Bringing good food to others: Investigating the subjects of alternative food practice. Cultural Geographies, 15(4), 431–447.Google Scholar
  42. Guy, C. M. (1998). Controlling new retail spaces: The impress of planning policies in Western Europe. Urban Studies, 35(5–6), 953–979.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Guy, C. M. (1999). Retail location analysis. In M. Pacione (Ed.), Applied geography: Principles and practice. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Handy, S. L., & Clifton, K. J. (2001). Local shopping as a strategy for reducing automobile travel. Transportation, 28(4), 317–346.Google Scholar
  45. Harper, A., Shattuck, A., Holt-Gimenez, E., Alkon, A., & Lambrick, F. (2009). Food policy councils: Lessons learned. Institute for food and development policy.Google Scholar
  46. Harris, J. L., Pomeranz, J. L., Lobstein, T., & Brownell, K. D. (2009). A crisis in the marketplace: How food marketing contributes to childhood obesity and what can be done. Annual Review of Public Health, 30(1), 211–225.Google Scholar
  47. Jacobs, A. J. (2009). The impacts of variations in development context on employment growth: A comparison of central cities in Michigan and Ontario, 1980–2006. Economic Development Quarterly, 23(4), 351–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Johnson, E. J., Shu, S. B., Dellaert, B. G. C., Fox, C., Goldstein, D. G., Häubl, G., et al. (2012). Beyond nudges: Tools of a choice architecture. Marketing Letters, 23(2), 487–504.Google Scholar
  49. Just, D. R. (2006). Behavioral economics, food assistance, and obesity. Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, 35(2), 209–220.Google Scholar
  50. Just, D. R., & Payne, C. R. (2009). Obesity: Can behavioral economics help? Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 38(1), 47–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kearns, R. A. (1993). Place and health: Towards a reformed medical geography. The Professional Geographer, 45(2), 139–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kearns, R., & Moon, G. (2002). From medical to health geography: Novelty, place and theory after a decade of change. Progress in Human Geography, 26(5), 605–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Khan, F. (2011). Combating obesity through the built environment: Is there a clear path to success? Public Health Reform, Spring, 387–393.Google Scholar
  54. Kumar, A., & Levinson, D. (1995). Chained Trips in Montgomery County, Maryland. ITE Journal, May, 27–32.Google Scholar
  55. Lang, T., & Caraher, M. (1998). Access to healthy foods: Part II. Food poverty and shopping deserts: What are the implications for health promotion policy and practice? Health Education Journal, 57(3), 202–211.Google Scholar
  56. Lawrence, M., & Swinburn, B. (1993). The role of policy in preventing childhood obesity. In E. Waters, B. A. Swinburn, J. C. Seidell, & R. Uauy (Eds.), Preventing childhood obesity: Evidence policy and practice. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  57. Lee, H. (2012). The role of local food availability in explaining obesity risk among young school-aged children. Social Science and Medicine, 74(8), 1193–1203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lytle, L. A. (2009). Measuring the food environment: State of the science. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36(4S), 134–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Morland, K., Diez-Roux, A. V., & Wing, S. (2006). Supermarkets, other food stores, and obesity: The atherosclerosis risk in communities study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30(4), 333–349.Google Scholar
  60. Murdoch, J., Marsden, T., & Banks, J. (2000). Quality, nature, and embeddedness: Some theoretical considerations in the context of the food sector. Economic Geography, 76(2), 107–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Neff, R. A., Palmer, A. M., McKenzie, S. E., & Lawrence, R. S. (2009). Food systems and public health disparities. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 4(3–4), 282–314.Google Scholar
  62. Nestle, M. (2003). Food politics: How the food industry influences nutrition and health. Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  63. Niles, D., & Roff, R. J. (2008). Shifting agrifood systems: The contemporary geography of food and agriculture; an introduction. GeoJournal, 73(1), 1–10.Google Scholar
  64. Oliver, A. (2011). Is nudge an effective public health strategy to tackle obesity? Yes. British Medical Journal, 342(d2168), 898–899.Google Scholar
  65. Pearce, J., Hiscock, R., Blakely, T., & Witten, K. (2008). The contextual effects of neighbourhood access to supermarkets and convenience stores on individual fruit and vegetable consumption. British Medical Journal, 62(3), 198–201.Google Scholar
  66. Pothukuchi, K. (2005). Attracting supermarkets to inner-city neighborhoods: Economic development outside the box. Economic Development Quarterly, 19(3), 232–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Prevention Research Center of Michigan. (2009). Speak to your health community survey. Ann Arbor, MI: Prevention Research Center of Michigan.Google Scholar
  68. Pykett, J. (2011). The new maternal state: The gendered politics of governing through behaviour change. Antipode, 44(1), 217–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rayner, G., & Lang, T. (2011). Is nudge an effective public health strategy to tackle obesity? No. British Medical Journal, 342(d2177).Google Scholar
  70. Reidpath, D. D., Burns, C., Garrard, J., Mahoney, M., & Townsend, M. (2002). An ecological study of the relationship between social and environmental determinants of obesity. Health & Place, 8(2), 141–145.Google Scholar
  71. Robertson, A. (1998). Shifting discourses on health in Canada: From health promotion to population health. Health Promotion International, 13(2), 155–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sadler, R. C., Arku, G., & Gilliland, J. A. (2014). Local food networks as catalysts for food policy change to improve health and build the economy. Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice & Sustainability. doi: 10.1080/13549839.2014.894965.Google Scholar
  73. Sadler, R. C., Clark, M. A. R., & Gilliland, J. A. (2013a). An economic impact comparative analysis of farmers’ markets in Michigan and Ontario. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 3(3), 61–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Sadler, R. C., Gilliland, J. A., & Arku, G. (2011). An application of the edge effect in measuring accessibility to multiple food retailer types in rural Southwestern Ontario, Canada. International Journal of Health Geographics, 10(1), 34.Google Scholar
  75. Sadler, R. C., Gilliland, J. A., & Arku, G. (2013b). A food retail-based intervention on food security and consumption. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(8), 3325–3346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Sadler, R. C., Gilliland, J. A., & Arku, G. (2013c). Community development and the influence of new food retail sources on the price and availability of nutritious food. Journal of Urban Affairs, 35(4), 471–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Sallis, J. F., Cervero, R. B., Ascher, W., Henderson, K. A., Kraft, M. K., & Kerr, J. (2006). An ecological approach to creating active living communities. Annual Review of Public Health, 27(1), 297–322.Google Scholar
  78. Schindler, S. (2013). Understanding urban processes in Flint, Michigan: Approaching ‘subaltern urbanism’inductively. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(3), 791–804.Google Scholar
  79. Schuering, E. S. (2011). “Perennial growth” in a Shrinking City: A case study of urban agriculture policy and planning in Cleveland, Ohio. Unpublished Master’s Thesis. Chicago, IL: DePaul University.Google Scholar
  80. Schwartz, J., Riis, J., Elbel, B., & Ariely, D. (2012). Inviting consumers to downsize fast-food portions significantly reduces calorie consumption. Health Affairs, 31(2), 399–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Seiders, K., & Petty, R. D. (2004). Obesity and the role of food marketing: A policy analysis of issues and remedies. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 23(2), 153–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Shannon, J. (2013). Food deserts: Governing obesity in the neoliberal city. Progress in Human Geography38(2), 248–266.Google Scholar
  83. Shill, J., Mavoa, H., Allender, S., Lawrence, M., Sacks, G., Peeters, A., et al. (2012). Government regulation to promote healthy food environments: A view from inside state governments. Obesity Public Health, 13(2), 162–173.Google Scholar
  84. Story, M., Kaphingst, K. M., Robinson-O’Brien, R., & Glanz, K. (2008). Creating healthy food and eating environments: Policy and environmental approaches. Annual Review of Public Health, 29(1), 253–272.Google Scholar
  85. Strauss, K. (2008). Re-engaging with rationality in economic geography: Behavioral approach and the importance of context in decision-making. Journal of Economic Geography, 8(1), 137–156.Google Scholar
  86. Thaler, R. (1980). Toward a positive theory of consumer choice. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization1(1), 39–60.Google Scholar
  87. Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2003). Libertarian paternalism. American Economic Review, 93(2), 175–179.Google Scholar
  88. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1981). The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science, 211(4481), 453–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service. (2012). Food Access Research Atlas. http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-desert-locator.aspx (accessed on 5 January 2013).
  90. United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). (2011). Healthy Food Financing Initiative. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/resource/healthy-food-financing-initiative-0 (accessed on 5 January 2013).
  91. Veenstra, G., Luginaah, I., Wakefield, S., Birch, S., Eyles, J., & Elliott, S. (2005). Who you know, where you live: Social capital, neighbourhood, and health. Social Science and Medicine, 60(12), 2799–2818.Google Scholar
  92. Walker, R. E., Keane, C. R., & Burke, J. G. (2010). Disparities and access to healthy food in the United States: A review of food deserts literature. Health & Place, 16(5), 876–884.Google Scholar
  93. Walmsley, D. J., & Lewis, G. J. (1993). People and environment: Behavioral approaches in human geography (2nd ed.). New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  94. Walter, S. D. (1991). The ecologic model in the study of environmental health. II: Methodologic issues and feasability. Environmental Health Perspectives, 94(1), 67–73.Google Scholar
  95. Weis, T. (2010). The global food economy: The battle for the future of farming. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  96. Westphal, L. M. (2003). Urban greening and social benefits: A study of empowerment outcomes. Journal of Arboriculture, 29(3), 137–147.Google Scholar
  97. Williams, P., & Hubbard, P. (2001). Who is disadvantaged? Retail change and social exclusion. International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 11(3), 267–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Winne, M. (2005). Community food security: Promoting food security and building healthy food systems. Venice, CA: Community Food Security Coalition.Google Scholar
  99. Wrigley, N., Warm, D., Margetts, B., & Whelan, A. (2002). Assessing the impact of improved retail access on diet in a ‘food desert’: A preliminary report. Urban Studies, 39(11), 2061–2082.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Casey Sadler
    • 1
  • Jason Andrew Gilliland
    • 2
  • Godwin Arku
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Human MedicineMichigan State UniversityFlintUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations