Background: Poor or predominately African American communities have fewer healthy food resources. Previous studies have not fully addressed important factors such as complex interrelationships between race and higher income and the interplay between “healthy” and “unhealthy” food resources.
Goal: To examine the effects of racial segregation and SES on food environments in Maryland.
Objectives: This study's objective is to determine if racial segregation and SES interact on "healthy" and "unhealthy" food environments in a unique way in Maryland.
Approach: Using data from the Census Bureau and InfoUSA, variations in associations between healthy and unhealthy food environments were assessed by neighborhood racial segregation and income. Associations between segregation and food environment were assessed using spatial regressions to account for neighboring communities using a 3rd order Rook contiguity. Multiplicative interaction terms were used to assess the potential modifying effects of income.
Results: Supermarket and grocery store density were negatively associated with fast food and convenience store density. Supermarkets were negatively associated with fast food and convenience stores among neighborhoods with fewer African American residents. Spatial regression analyses found that income was inversely, and segregation positively, associated with fast food and grocery store density with significant interactions. Spatial lag and error were detected for grocery store density.
Importance to public health: Unhealthy food resources were not negatively associated with healthy food resources in African American neighborhoods suggesting that African Americans are more likely to be simultaneously exposed to both healthy and unhealthy food environments. This has implications for racial disparities in obesity and diet. Moreover, neighborhood SES is implicated in these associations. Policymakers and researchers should examine food environments with specificity rather than broadly.