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Nutr Rev. 2008 Apr;66(4):216-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2008.00026.x.

Disparities in obesity prevalence due to variation in the retail food environment: three testable hypotheses.

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  • 1Department of Human Nutrition, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA.


Although the overall population in the United States has experienced a dramatic increase in obesity in the past 25 years, ethnic/racial minorities, and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations have a greater prevalence of obesity, as compared to white, and/or economically advantaged populations. Disparities in obesity are unlikely to be predominantly due to individual psychosocial or biological differences, and they may reflect differences in the built or social environment. The retail food environment is a critical aspect of the built environment that can contribute to observed disparities. This paper reviews the literature on retail food environments in the United States and proposes interrelated hypotheses that geographic, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in obesity within the United States are the result of disparities in the retail food environment. The findings of this literature review suggest that poor-quality retail food environments in disadvantaged areas, in conjunction with limited individual economic resources, contribute to increased risk of obesity within racial and ethnic minorities and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.

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