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Access to Food

The choices consumers make about the food they purchase and eat are influenced by many factors, including price, perceived nutritional value, travel time, and product availability. Some people, especially those with low income, may face greater barriers in accessing healthy and affordable food retailers, which may negatively affect diet and food security.

The US Department of Agriculture has developed a methodology for measuring food access and releases data through the Food Access Research Atlas (FARA).  The Atlas uses income and distance to healthy retail food outlets to define food access for census tracts across the US.  According to the 2015 Atlas, over 25% of Missourians have low food access – defined as living more than 1 mile (urban) or 10 miles (rural) from a supermarket or large grocery retailer.

The Atlas also defines geographic areas of low food access and high poverty, or food deserts.    The chart below compares Missouri’s food desert population with the United States overall while the map provides a visualization of food deserts and vehicle access across Missouri.

Food Desert Population
Percentage of population living in food desert census tracts, 2015. Source: USDA Food Access Research Atlas.
Percent of people living in a food desert and percent of households who do not have access to a vehicle (by census tract)

The percent of income required to meet basic household food needs is a key determining factor in the types of food that families purchase. Making difficult choices among healthy foods and household needs is a reality in many low-income households. The percent of household income required to purchase food varies greatly across Missouri counties, ranging from 8.2 percent to 24 percent, according to the Missouri Hunger Atlas.