Place Indicators: Access to Healthy FoodAccess to healthy food enables people to maintain a healthy diet and reduce the risk of diet- and obesity-related disease, including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Studies show that fresh fruit and vegetable consumption increases by as much as 32% for each additional supermarket in a community. A shortage of supermarkets and lack of access to higher quality, more nutritious foods are among the many contributing causes of obesity.
According to a 2010 study conducted by The Food Trust, Houston has fewer supermarkets per capita than most of the nation’s large metropolitan areas. Nationally, there are 11.6 supermarkets per 100,000 people. The Houston average is 8.2. Texas has the lowest number of supermarkets per capita of any state, 8.8 per 100,000 people (Manon, Giang, & Treering, 2011).
In addition to having too few supermarkets in the Houston area, the existing supermarkets are unevenly distributed. Residents are more likely to choose healthy foods in areas where fresh food is available. As the accompanying map shows, low-income areas of the city that have high rates of diet-related deaths are underserved. Working-poor zip codes have 25% fewer supermarkets per capita than middle-income zip codes. As a result, many people in these underserved communities resort to buying food from convenience stores, where the selection is limited and not particularly healthy.
Community gardens and farmers markets can also provide convenient access to fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods. Recently Houston committed 10 acres of land for a community garden in Sunnyside, a low-income neighborhood, and created eight community gardens in neighborhood parks.