Giving Compass' Take:

• Researchers are poking holes in the theory that putting more grocery stores in food deserts will change what individuals choose to eat just because they have access to it. 

• How can donors help grocery stores succeed in food deserts? What needs to happen to change an individual's behavior around food?

• Read more about whether or not we can eliminate food deserts. 

Research has shown that income is increasingly linked to health: Not only are today’s richer Americans healthier than poorer ones, but the gap is wider than it was in the early 1990s. Studies have attributed this to food consumption, with better dietary quality associated with higher socioeconomic status—in other words, the more money you have, the easier it is to afford nutritious foods.

Some have concluded that a key part of the problem is “food deserts”—neighborhoods without supermarkets, mostly in low-income areas. A widely held theory maintains that those who live in food deserts are forced to shop at local convenience stores, where it’s hard to find healthy groceries. A proposed solution is to advocate for the opening of supermarkets in these neighborhoods, which are thought to encourage better eating.

This idea has gathered a lot of steam. Over the past decade, federal and local governments in the United States have spent hundreds of millions of dollars encouraging grocery stores to open in food deserts. The federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative has leveraged over $1 billion in financing for grocers in under-served areas. The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act, which is currently under consideration in Congress, would extend these efforts with large tax credits. Meanwhile, cities such as Houston and Denver have sought to institute related measures at the local level.

However, recent research in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which Hunt Allcott, an associate professor in the economics department at New York University, co-wrote, raises questions about the efficacy of this approach.

Here, Allcott explains food deserts and how they may—or may not—affect nutrition.

Read the full article about grocery stores in food deserts by James Devitt at Futurity.