In spite of some improvement over the past decade, 17.6 million U.S. residents – 5.6 percent of the population – still live in Limited Supermarket Access (LSA) areas, according to Reinvestment Funds recently updated LSA analysis of urban and rural communities. the good news, however, is that this represents a decline of 15 percent, or 3.1 million fewer people, from 2010.
“For more than a decade, we have worked to ensure that all Americans have equitable and adequate access to healthy food,” noted Don Hinkle-Brown, president and CEO of Philadelphia-based community development financial institution Reinvestment Fund. “The LSA has been at the core of our evidence-based approach to solutions that bring improved access to healthy food as well as economic opportunity to communities across the country.”
The LSA analysis gauges access to healthy food by determining which areas are well served by supermarkets and which have relatively limited access. Reinvestment Fund’s analysis goes beyond just identifying areas with limited access, however, also measuring the extent to which LSA areas can support new or expanded food retail.
According to the updated analysis, while access to healthy food in the United States has grown overall in the past decade, progress has been uneven, with improvements in food access followed by setbacks in some areas, and even substantial declines in certain communities.
Among the top 10 states where healthy food access has improved, the number of people living in LSA Areas declined by more than 30 percent from 2010 to 2016, with North Dakota, Idaho and Iowa experiencing significant declines in underserved populations. By contrast, Maine and Nevada saw considerable increases in their LSA populations from 2010 to 2016. While most states’ LSA populations declined, many lagged behind the national decrease of 15 percent, including states that experienced substantial population growth, such as Florida and Arizona.
The analysis also pinpointed states and metro regions in which low-income residents and minorities disproportionately live in LSA areas. Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were identified as the top three states where LSA areas are disproportionately located in low-income areas; minorities are also disproportionately concentrated in LSA areas in these areas. In Rhode Island, 91 percent of the LSA area population are low-income, versus 44 percent nationally.
The 2018 LSA analysis is the second update to the data, which was first issued in 2011. The latest update covers LSA data from 2010 through 2016. The data will be available free via the PolicyMap platform.
In its role as the national fund manager for the USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), Reinvestment Fund has also committed to conducting targeted analyses in rural communities and communities of color to determine potential steps to improve limited access to fresh food. Further, Reinvestment Fund will release a Rural Supplement to the 2018 LSA update later this year focusing specifically on food access trends in rural areas.