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Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 107, Supplement 1, pp eS21–eS26 | Cite as

Identifying rural food deserts: Methodological considerations for food environment interventions

  • Alexandre LebelEmail author
  • David Noreau
  • Lucie Tremblay
  • Céline Oberlé
  • Maurie Girard-Gadreau
  • Mathieu Duguay
  • Jason P. Block
Quantitative Research
  • 2 Downloads

Abstract

OBJECTIVES: Food insecurity in an important public health issue and affects 13% of Canadian households. It is associated with poor accessibility to fresh, diverse and affordable food products. However, measurement of the food environment is challenging in rural settings since the proximity of food supply sources is unevenly distributed. The objective of this study was to develop a methodology to identify food deserts in rural environments.

METHODS: In-store evaluations of 25 food products were performed for all food stores located in four contiguous rural counties in Quebec. The quality of food products was estimated using four indices: freshness, affordability, diversity and the relative availability. Road network distance between all residences to the closest food store with a favourable score on the four dimensions was mapped to identify residential clusters located in deprived communities without reasonable access to a “good” food source. The result was compared with the food desert parameters proposed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as with the perceptions of a group of regional stakeholders.

RESULTS: When food quality was considered, food deserts appeared more prevalent than when only the USDA definition was used. Objective measurements of the food environment matched stakeholders’ perceptions.

CONCLUSION: Food stores’ characteristics are different in rural areas and require an in-store estimation to identify potential rural food deserts. The objective measurements of the food environment combined with the field knowledge of stakeholders may help to shape stronger arguments to gain the support of decision-makers to develop relevant interventions.

KEY WORDS

Social environment geography food supply food insecurity 

Résumé

OBJECTIFS : L’insécurité alimentaire est une problématique de santé publique qui atteint près de 13 % des ménages canadiens. Elle est associée à une faible accessibilité à des produits alimentaires frais, diversifiés et abordables. Cependant, la mesure de l’environnement alimentaire demeure un défi important en milieu rural puisque les sources d’approvisionnement alimentaire sont distribuées de façon inégale sur le territoire. L’objectif de cette étude était de développer une méthodologie pour identifier les déserts alimentaires potentiels en milieu rural.

MÉTHODES : L’évaluation de 25 produits alimentaires a été réalisée pour tous les magasins d’alimentation de quatre municipalités régionales de comté rurales québécoises. La qualité des produits alimentaires fut estimée par quatre indices: la fraîcheur, l’abordabilité, la diversité et la disponibilité relative. La distance réticulaire entre toutes les résidences et le magasin d’alimentation le plus proche ayant un indice favorable pour les quatre indices fut cartographiée pour localiser les regroupements de résidences localisés dans une communauté défavorisée n’ayant pas un accès à une « bonne » source d’approvisionnement alimentaire. Le résultat fut comparé aux paramètres d’identification d’un désert alimentaire proposés par le USDA, ainsi qu’à la perception d’un groupe d’acteurs régionaux.

RÉSULTATS : Lorsque la qualité de l’alimentation était considérée, la présence de déserts alimentaires potentiels était beaucoup plus importante qu’avec la définition proposée par le USDA. La mesure objective de l’environnement alimentaire concordait avec la perception des acteurs régionaux.

CONCLUSION : Les caractéristiques des magasins d’alimentation sont différentes en milieu rural et nécessitent une évaluation directe pour identifier les déserts alimentaires potentiels. Les mesures objectives de l’environnement alimentaire conjuguées avec les connaissances des acteurs régionaux pourraient contribuer à développer des arguments plus solides pour obtenir le support des décideurs afin d’élaborer des interventions adaptées au milieu.

MOTS CLÉS

environnement social géographie approvisionnement alimentaire insécurité alimentaire 

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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandre Lebel
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • David Noreau
    • 1
    • 3
  • Lucie Tremblay
    • 4
  • Céline Oberlé
    • 1
  • Maurie Girard-Gadreau
    • 1
  • Mathieu Duguay
    • 1
  • Jason P. Block
    • 5
  1. 1.Graduate School of Land Management and Regional PlanningLaval UniversityQuébecCanada
  2. 2.Evaluation Platform on Obesity Prevention, Quebec’s Heart and Lung InstituteLaval UniversityQuébecCanada
  3. 3.Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l’Occupation du territoireQuébecCanada
  4. 4.Regional Public Health AuthorityChaudière-AppalachesSte-Marie de BeauceCanada
  5. 5.Obesity Prevention Program, Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical SchoolHarvard Pilgrim Health Care InstituteBostonUSA

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