A community-academic partnership
committed to fostering health 
equity in Detroit since 2000

Food Environment

FarmersMarket VendorCoupleSellingProduce 800pixelsThe food we eat affects our health. In some areas of Detroit, accessing healthy food can be challenging.

HEP started working on the issue of food access in Detroit in 2000, as several members of the partnership had previously worked with a smaller project in which Detroit residents with diabetes identified access to healthy foods as a challenge in managing this chronic condition. In 2002, as part of HEP’s first study, Social and Physical Environments and Health Disparities (SPEHD, R01 ES10936), Shannon N. Zenk, then a doctoral student, mapped food outlets in three areas of Detroit (eastside, northwest, southwest), and documented the range, quality and price of fresh produce available at those stores. Using these data, study findings documented differences in availability of fresh produce by the racial and socioeconomic characteristics of Detroit neighborhoods, with neighborhoods with the greatest racial segregation combined with the highest poverty levels having poorer access to healthy foods. We subsequently demonstrated that living in areas with poorer food access was associated with lower intakes of fruits and vegetables, and an important predictor of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

In 2008, HEP conducted a second audit of food availability in Detroit through the Lean and Green in Motown project. This time, we examined an expanded range of foods, including for example, the availability of low fat dairy products and whole grains, in 165 neighborhood stores, and audited approximately 200 local restaurants to examine menus. Analyses of these data have established associations between local food availability and dietary practices, and have also examined shoppers experiences of discrimination in different types of food stores, exploring their potential implications for where people may choose to shop for food. Our findings have contributed to an understanding of Detroit food environments, as well as to a broader understanding of how local food environments – including both the foods available and shoppers’ experiences when shopping – may shape dietary practices and ultimately, health.

Please visit the Publications page to learn more about HEP’s research on this important issue. Relevant publications include: Ball et. al. 2015; Zenk et. al. 2013; Zenk et. al. 2013; Izumi et. al. 2011.

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