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Int J Epidemiol. 2010 Feb;39(1):277-84. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyp221. Epub 2009 Jun 2.

Neighbourhood food environment and area deprivation: spatial accessibility to grocery stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables in urban and rural settings.

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Healthy Environments Research Programme, Department of Geography, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK.



The 'deprivation amplification' hypothesis suggests that residents of deprived neighbourhoods have universally poorer access to high-quality food environments, which in turn contributes to the development of spatial inequalities in diet and diet-related chronic disease. This paper presents results from a study that quantified access to grocery stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables in four environmental settings in Scotland, UK.


Spatial accessibility, as measured by network travel times, to 457 grocery stores located in 205 neighbourhoods in four environmental settings (island, rural, small town and urban) in Scotland was calculated using Geographical Information Systems. The distribution of accessibility by neighbourhood deprivation in each of these four settings was investigated.


Overall, the most deprived neighbourhoods had the best access to grocery stores and grocery stores selling fresh produce. Stratified analysis by environmental setting suggests that the least deprived compared with the most deprived urban neighbourhoods have greater accessibility to grocery stores than their counterparts in island, rural and small town locations. Access to fresh produce is better in more deprived compared with less deprived urban and small town neighbourhoods, but poorest in the most affluent island communities with mixed results for rural settings.


The results presented here suggest that the assumption of a universal 'deprivation amplification' hypothesis in studies of the neighbourhood food environment may be misguided. Associations between neighbourhood deprivation and grocery store accessibility vary by environmental setting. Theories and policies aimed at understanding and rectifying spatial inequalities in the distribution of neighbourhood exposures for poor diet need to be context specific.

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