The Geography of Poverty and Nutrition: Food Deserts and Food Choices Across the United States

The Geography of Poverty and Nutrition: Food Deserts and Food Choices Across the United States

By Hunt Allcott, Rebecca Diamond, Jean-Pierre Dubé
January 2,2018Working Paper No. 3631

We study the causes of “nutritional inequality”: why the wealthy tend to eat more healthfully than the poor in the U.S. Using two event study designs exploiting entry of new supermarkets and households’ moves to healthier neighborhoods, we reject that neighborhood environments have economically meaningful effects on healthy eating. Using a structural demand model, we find that exposing low-income households to the same food availability and prices experienced by high-income households would reduce nutritional inequality by only 9%, while the remaining 91% is driven by differences in demand. In turn, these income-related demand differences are partially explained by education, nutrition knowledge, and regional preferences. These findings contrast with discussions of nutritional inequality that emphasize supply-side issues such as food deserts.