Given that small food stores may be important retail food sources in low-income urban communities, our objective was to examine cross-city comparative data documenting healthy food availability within such facilities, particularly those located in low-income areas and nearby schools.
Food stores in Baltimore, Maryland; Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota; Oakland, California; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were selected for assessment based on proximity to low-income schools. Stores were defined as: (i) single-aisle (n 45); (ii) small (2–5 aisles; n 52); and (iii) large (≥6 aisles; n 8). Staff conducted in-store audits to assess the presence/absence of twenty-eight healthy items, organized within five categories: (i) fresh fruits/vegetables, (ii) processed fruits/vegetables, (iii) healthy beverages/low-fat dairy, (iv) healthy snacks and (v) other healthy staple foods.
The availability of healthy food items was low, particularly in single-aisle and small stores, and there was significant cross-site variability in the availability of healthy snacks (P < 0·0001) and other healthy staple foods (P < 0·0001). No cross-site differences existed for fruits/vegetables or healthy beverages/low-fat dairy availability. Healthy food availability scores increased significantly with store size for nearly all food/beverage categories (P < 0·01).
Overall, healthy food availability in these venues was limited. Region-specific factors may be important to consider in understanding factors influencing healthy food availability in small urban markets. Data suggest that efforts to promote healthy diets in low-income communities may be compromised by a lack of available healthy foods. Interventions targeting small stores need to be developed and tailored for use in urban areas across the USA.
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