Low access to healthy food is associated with poor diet and increased obesity. The scarcity of healthy food outlets in disadvantaged communities has led to local and national initiatives to increase healthy food access. It is unknown if locatin supermarkets or other outlets for healthy foods in these areas, called """"""""food deserts,"""""""" will improve diet quality. One such food outlet is the food hub, an outlet for locally produced food that typically have healthy food access, local food security, economic development and community education and training as goals. They are an alternative to supermarket chains that are often unwilling to locate in areas of high poverty. The goal of this research is to evaluate th impact of a food hub in a food desert community in South Carolina. The food hub will include a farmers'market, urban farm, mobile market, cafe and classrooms for community nutrition education and culinary arts job training. It will employ 23 local people and seeks to increase access to local produce and other food products produced on-site. The study will enroll 280 primary food shoppers from the surrounding community and 280 from a control group from a distant community matched on characteristics such as poverty, racial composition and access to healthy food. In-person interviews will be conducted with the 560 participants before the food hub's opening and again at 12 and 24 months to assess dietary intake, body weight, perceptions of the community food environment and food shopping habits, as well as a number of other social and attitudinal measures related to dietary choices. Global Positioning System and Geographic Information Systems technology will be use to assess the two communities'food environment and to calculate measures such as distance from participants'residences to various types of food outlets (for example, grocery store, convenience store, farmers'market , and fast food restaurant). Additional analyses of sales figures and questionnaires from shoppers present on randomly selected days at the food hub's farmers'market will indicate if residents of the surrounding food desert represent an increasing proportion of customers. Community leaders will provide their impressions of the food hub's impact on the community and its successes and challenges through focus groups and interviews.
Several studies of low access to healthy food indicate it is associated with less healthy diet and greater rates of obesity, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. This study may provide data to indicate whether locating a healthy food outlet in a food desert community has a positive impact on public health through improving access to and intake of fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods, improving overall diet quality and reducing overweight and obesity.
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