THURSDAY, July 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Changes in the shopping habits of Americans during the pandemic worsened pre-existing gaps in access to food, researchers report.
While many wealthier people have gone online to order and stocked more, most low-income people still had to shop in person at local small grocery stores and dollar stores and do so regularly. because they couldn’t afford to shop.
That’s the conclusion of a study that looked at 2020 data on in-person traffic at nearly 400 grocery vendors in the Columbus, Ohio area, before the lockdown (Jan.6 – March 15), during the lockdown (March 16 – April 19) and during the initial reopening period (April 20 – May 31).
While the city’s mid- to high-end grocery stores and big-box food retailers saw a significant drop in foot traffic during the lockdown, dollar stores and small independent grocers – especially in neighborhoods in low income and those serving many people of color – saw only a slight decrease in client visits.
“Most low-income people still had to shop in person during COVID shutdowns and may not have the economic capacity to stock up on food,” the study’s lead author said, Armita Kar, doctoral student in geography at Ohio State University.
“They made fewer trips to mid- and high-end grocery stores outside their neighborhood and continued to visit stores closest to them on a regular basis, namely dollar stores and local grocery stores.” Kar said in an academic press release.
The problems facing the poor during pandemic lockdowns are not new, according to study co-author Huyen Le, assistant professor of geography at Ohio State.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated existing problems of unequal access to food for low-income people,” Le said.
“The rich and the poor mainly shopped at different grocery stores before COVID-19, and these differences became even more glaring when the lockdown arrived,” said study co-author Harvey Miller, director from the Ohio Urban and Regional Analysis Center.
The findings underscore the need for better food purchasing options for low-income people who live in so-called food deserts, according to Le.
“Dollar stores mainly offer packaged and highly processed foods that are not healthy,” Le said. “Policymakers should consider how to provide better shopping options for people living in low-income areas, so that they have better access to healthy food.”
The study will be published in the September issue of the journal Applied geography.
The US Department of Agriculture offers tips for eating healthy on a budget.
SOURCE: Ohio State University, press release, July 19, 2021
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