How Far Do You Walk to Purchase Healthy Food?

August 19, 2013 at 10:52 AM

In response to inquiries from around the region (we heard an interest in data on the availability of healthier food options that are convenient for people to access), the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission (Commission) researched how data may be collected and measured. With the Mascoma Healthy Eating Active Living Initiative, the Commission began to ask the question; What relationship is there between where healthier food options are located and municipal policies and ordinances that either create barriers to, or help promote, the opportunity for healthier communities?

In 2010, the Commission applied for and received Sustainable Community Challenge Grant funding through HUD by partnering with a number of organizations such as United Way, the Mascoma Valley Healthy Eating Active Living initiative, the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission, Vital Communities, the Town of Hanover and the Upper Valley Housing Coalition. This funding enabled the Commission to begin assessing access to food within our region.

Overview of Research

Determining Food Sources
To determine where grocery and convenience stores are located, we purchased a database that provided the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) code for every business within the UVLSRPC region. To be consistent with other research, we used NAICS classification codes of 445110 (supermarkets and other grocery stores), 445120 (convenience stores) and 447110 (gasoline stations and convenience stores) as our starting point. From this list, we used local knowledge and field surveys as well as the local yellow pages which added approximately 25 additional sites for a total of 84 food locations within the region. In hindsight, we should have additionally included all pharmacy locations as their inventory has consistently increased and has become a food source location for many residents. However, funding does not allow us to additionally survey these stores and then incorporate them into the project. Additionally, food sources that require membership were determined not to be accessible by all public, such as clubs (i.e. BJ’s Wholesale) were not included in the research.

Regional Availability of Agricultural Products
A regional depiction of the Availability of Agricultural Products allows for the comparative analysis of each municipality’s presence of farmer’s markets and farms stands of locally grown food products. The map uses a measure known as a Farmer Day, implemented by the US Center for Disease Control to describe the average number of farm vendors who sell food at a market or stand on a given day. The number of Farmer Days for a particular location is reported, as is the composite score for each municipality. Data on locations and hours was provided by Vital Communities through a database that they maintain. We purposely did not include Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for two reasons; CSAs are membership driven activities, and we felt that we would be double counting these food sources by including the farm stand or farmer’s market access points in addition to their CSA. The greatest number of Farmer Days is found in the Town of Piermont. Nine communities within our region have no access to agricultural products within their community and would have to travel by vehicle to another town to access locally grown agricultural products.

Regional Availability of Healthier Food Options
Maps were created to demonstrate “Availability of Healthier Food Options”. They displayed the Nutrition Environment Measures Survey (NEMS) score of each Grocery or Convenience store fro each location and municipality. The NEMS survey was developed by a group of nutrition and nursing professionals and is based on the average American diet. It is not a survey about local, organic or other measures, rather it asks the question: If a store sells product A, is there a comparable low fat version available at the same price and visibility? Each store was assigned a score based on its availability of healthy food options. The survey used to determine the NEMS score included the availability of milk, fruit, vegetables, meat, hotdogs, frozen dinners, baked goods, beverages, bread, baked chips, and cereal. The number of varieties of each product, the presence of no/reduced fat items, and differences in price were all recorded and used to arrive at the NEMS score. A group of 19 volunteers, including Colby Sawyer students, were trained in 2011 to administer the NEMS survey. NEMS was used so that our region could be compared with other regions around the country that are using the same survey tool. As expected, large grocery stores with the highest NEMS score are found in the larger more populated communities within the region.

Fifteen (more than 50%) of our municipalities have no access to a grocery store within their community. Interestingly, communities with higher population densities that lack a grocery store are some of the more prominent locations for convenience stores. Eighteen (67%) communities have at least one convenience store. Only four of the more rural communities have no food stores at all.

Regional Level of Service, Pedestrian/Bicycle
The maps labeled “Quality of Roads for Biking/Walking” provide a spatial representation of a selection of roads graded for the quality of non-automotive transit on behalf of pedestrians and bicyclists. This Level of Service (LOS) analysis technique is drawn from the 2008 Multimodal Level of Service Analysis to determine the feasibility of safe, mixed-use travel on a road network. The primary Pedestrian LOS considerations include pedestrian space requirements, walking speeds, and traffic flow relationships. These are then expanded to consider pedestrian-bicyclist interactions, delays at signalized intersections, traffic crossflows, and travel obstacles. The Bicycle Level of Service grade is calculated using the Bicycle Compatibility Index, which provides each road section with a score. The primary factors for consideration in the generation of this score are pavement quality, the presence/width of a bike lane, the curb lane width/volume, the volume of other lanes of the same travel direction, the speed of traffic, the presence of a parking lane, the type of roadside development, and adjustment factors of large truck volume, parking time limit, and the hourly right turn volume. Class I, II and most IV roads, exclusive of the Interstate Highway System were considered for analysis. These classes are defined by NH RSA 229:5,V as the existing or proposed highways that are part of the primary and secondary state highway systems in New Hampshire.

The road segments are determined by NH Department of Transportation. Approximately, 1,500 road segments were analyzed using a variety of techniques including field checks, Street View Google Maps, and data collected by the NH Department of Transportation and NH Department of Safety.

This analysis was completed in order to determine how many people might reasonably be able to access the determined food sources within the region by bike or by walking. We have already determined a couple of disadvantages using this analysis such as elevation and grade changes and personal safety elements that are not taken into account.

Series of Individual Municipal Access to Healthier Food Choices
Reference maps outline clusters of food access points that are immediately followed by a series of Pedestrian/Bicyclist Accessibility maps that highlight these clusters. The map extent is restricted to show one of the food source clusters at a time to facilitate individual analysis of populations. The map incorporates LOS road quality information, aerial imagery, and food sources graded by their access to healthier food options using the nutritional Environment Measurement Survey (NEMS) score or number of available Farmer days.

Reference Map of Municipal Access to Healthier Food Choices
The reference map of municipal “Access to Healthier Food Choices” provides each community with an assessment of the nutritional resources available to their population. The maps consist of aerial imagery overlaid by a series of individual points representing the farmers’ markets, food stands, convenience, and grocery stores in the immediate area. Two similar versions of this map have been made available; each detailing the range a person might be willing to travel to access a food source. The range for pedestrians extends 0.25 miles from the food source, and the range for bicyclists is 0.8 miles from the food source. The trip for each method of travel would take an average of 10 minute round trip. We used this distance based on a literature review that was conducted by our staff on the length of time a person would consider reasonable for non-motorized travel for the purpose or running errands .

Populations Who Have Access to Identified Food Sources
The populations within the clusters were determined by calculating the population within the Census block that was wholly located within each cluster. In cases where the clusters divided Census blocks; population was determined using aerial imagery and counting the number of housing units located within the cluster. The average of household family size determined through the Housing Needs Assessment of 2.32 was used and where applicable added to the Census block data.

In the UVLSRPC region, approximately 15.2% of the population has access to a food source by walking, and 44% of the regions’ population is within a 5 minute bicycle ride to a grocery or convenience store. When considering the practicality of access it is noted that; while most people are able to walk .25 miles, not all people are able, or have ownership of a bicycle. According to the National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors, 23.7% of people in the US over 16 rode a bike at least once in the last 30-day period.

According to the research conducted by the Commission, Claremont is the most walkable community with 34% of the population within a 5 minute walk of a grocery or convenience store. Newport is the second most walkable community; with 25% of the population within a 5 minute walk. In Hanover, 73% of the population has access to a food store within a 5 minute bike ride. And Lebanon has 67% of the population within a 5 minute bike ride. Four communities have no non-vehicular access to a food store.

In 14 communities within the region 10% or less of the population can easily walk to a food store. This leaves greater than 90% to use some form of vehicular transportation in those 14 communities. Almost 85% of the region’s population is unable to access food location within a 5 minute walk.

Tags: Health walking distance healthy food walkability Mascoma HEAL Initiative
Category: Upper Valley Lake Sunapee RPC

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