Spatial Patterns of Food Access in the Appalachian Region of the US Open Access

Gingrich, Jared (Spring 2022)

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Procuring healthy food is becoming more difficult in many regions of the US, especially largely rural regions such as Appalachia. Spatial data on grocery store locations, household income, and vehicle availability were used to calculate a novel metric, the food access score, for this region. According to the food access score, 60% of the population has poor access to food across Appalachia, with larger areas of poor access in Central West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Average food access in Appalachia is worse than a similar average calculated for the US as a whole. Including small grocery stores and farmers markets alongside large grocery stores increases the food access score, especially in rural areas. This suggests that local food retailers can act as a significant source of food in rural areas with otherwise poor food access, although this is highly dependent on the locations of these stores and markets. The food access score is compared to current methods for determining food deserts in the US, based upon thresholds corresponding to food desert criteria. When compared to food desert classifications, this methodology attributes a much larger share of the poor access population to rural areas, which shifts the understanding of the relative differences in food access between rural and urban contexts. 

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 1

1.1 Food Access and Food Deserts 1

1.2 Study Site 6

1.3 Study Goals 8

2. Methods 8

2.1 Distance-to-Store Indicator of Access 9

2.2 Economic Indicator of Access 12

2.3 Vehicle Indicator of Access 13

2.4 The Food Access Score 14

2.5 Comparison with National F AS and Food Desert Classifications 15

3. Results 17

3.1 Geographic patterns in the Food Access Score 17

3.2 Farmers markets and small grocery stores in the Food Access Score 19

3.3 Appalachian FAS compared to National FAS and Food Desert Classifications 21

4. Discussion 24

4.1 Patterns of access in Appalachia 25

4.2 The role of small grocery stores and farmers markets 26

4.3 Relative and absolute measures of food access 27

5. Conclusion 29

Sources 31

Appendix: Supplementary Maps 45

Map 1: Urban and Rural Appalachia 46

Map 2: Distance-to-Store 47

Map 3: Median Household Income 48

Map 4: Vehicle Availability 49

Map 5: Food Access Score 50 

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