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Open Access Research

Socio-economic status, racial composition and the affordability of fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods of a large rural region in Texas

Richard A Dunn1, Joseph R Sharkey2*, Justus Lotade-Manje1, Yasser Bouhlal1 and Rodolfo M Nayga3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA

2 Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, TX, USA

3 Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, USA

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Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:6  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-6

Published: 18 January 2011

Abstract

Background

Little is known about how affordability of healthy food varies with community characteristics in rural settings. We examined how the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables varies with the economic and demographic characteristics in six rural counties of Texas.

Methods

Ground-truthed data from the Brazos Valley Food Environment Project were used to identify all food stores in the rural region and the availability and lowest price of fresh whole fruit and vegetables in the food stores. Socioeconomic characteristics were extracted from the 2000 U.S. Census Summary Files 3 at the level of the census block group. We used an imputation strategy to calculate two types of price indices for both fresh fruit and fresh vegetables: a high variety and a basic index; and evaluated the relationship between neighborhood economic and demographic characteristics and affordability of fresh produce, using linear regression models.

Results

The mean cost of meeting the USDA recommendation of fruit consumption from a high variety basket of fruit types in our sample of stores was just over $27.50 per week. Relying on the three most common fruits lowered the weekly expense to under $17.25 per week, a reduction of 37.6%. The effect of moving from a high variety to a low variety basket was much less when considering vegetable consumption: a 4.3% decline from $29.23 to $27.97 per week. Univariate regression analysis revealed that the cost of fresh produce is not associated with the racial/ethnic composition of the local community. However, multivariate regression showed that holding median income constant, stores in neighborhoods with higher percentages of Black residents paid more for fresh fruits and vegetables. The proportion of Hispanic residents was not associated with cost in either the univariate or multivariate analysis.

Conclusion

This study extends prior work by examining the affordability of fresh fruit and vegetables from food stores in a large rural area; and how access to an affordable supply of fresh fruit and vegetables differs by neighborhood inequalities. The approach and findings of this study are relevant and have important research and policy implications for understanding access and availability of affordable, healthy foods.