access to food stores is not unique to urban areas; about 20 percent of rural counties across the United States (418 counties) also have been identified as areas where half the population lives more than 10 miles from a large food store (Morton and Blanchard, 2007). The disparate distribution of grocery stores and supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods or geographic areas is especially notable in light of the distribution of racial/ethnic groups within these tracts. For example, Mantovani and Welsh (1996) found that “a large majority of low-income households are in close proximity to a full-line grocery store or supermarket” (p. iv), but minority households in rural areas live farther from these types of food stores than nonminority households.
Disparities in Access by Type of Food Outlet
Apart from the question of distance from a food store is that of where SNAP participants are more likely to shop. Ohls (1999) analyzed data from the National Food Stamp Program Survey, conducted between June 1996 and January 1997. The analysis examined the food shopping opportunities of low-income households, including SNAP participants and eligible nonparticipants. The study found that most low-income households shopped at supermarkets but tended to supplement their purchases by shopping at neighborhood grocery stores, convenience stores, bakeries, and produce markets. They also engaged in “careful” shopping practices, including making bargain purchases, taking advantage of special offers, and using shopping lists to extend their food dollars. Olander and colleagues (2006) and Castner and Henke (2011) also found that most SNAP participants redeemed their benefits at supermarkets, and their purchase patterns were similar to those identified by Cole (1997).
As noted by Mantovani and Welsh (1996), minority low-income groups may experience disparities in access that are not seen across the low-income population as a whole. In a study examining associations between local food environments and neighborhood racial/ethnic and socioeconomic composition, Moore and Diez Roux (2006) analyzed census tract demographics as well as food store characteristics in selected study areas in Maryland, New York, and North Carolina. Their comparison across study areas and across racial/ethnic composition revealed that the predominantly minority and racially mixed areas had at least twice as many grocery stores but fewer than half the number of supermarkets compared with predominantly white areas. The low-income and nonwhite areas also had fewer fruit and vegetable markets, bakeries, specialty stores, and natural food stores.
A cross-sectional survey in Michigan (Zenk et al., 2005) assessed the availability, quality, and price of fresh produce in various types of stores—large and small grocery stores, “mom and pop” stores, and convenience