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J Nutr. 2010 Jun;140(6):1185-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.113266. Epub 2010 Apr 21.

The rationale behind small food store interventions in low-income urban neighborhoods: insights from New Orleans.

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Department of Community Health Sciences, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA.


Environmental approaches to the obesity problem in the US have garnered favor due to growing evidence that changes to the environment are at the root of the epidemic. Low-income urban neighborhoods, where obesity rates are disproportionately high, typically lack supermarkets yet have a high density of small food stores. This may increase the risk for unhealthy diets and obesity for neighborhood residents, because small stores carry mostly energy-dense foods and few fruits and vegetables. This paper pulls together various studies and pilot work conducted in New Orleans to explore the rationale behind small store interventions. Many low-income residents in New Orleans live within walking distance of small food stores and shop at them frequently. Marketing research has documented that changes to in-store shelf space and displays of specific foods affect the sales of these foods. Initiatives in New Orleans and elsewhere have demonstrated some success with improving healthy food availability in small stores, and an intercept survey of customers at small stores suggests that customers would purchase more fruits and vegetables if available. Efforts to encourage small store operators to offer a healthier mix of foods may, in the end, depend on the profitability of such changes. Evidence from a typical small store in New Orleans indicates that a greater percentage of gross profits come from snack foods and beverages than from fruits and vegetables. More research is needed to better understand the financial operations of small food stores and whether altering the mix of foods is economically feasible.

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