Food access and environment in Davidson County, Tennessee: A comparison between food deserts and other neighborhoods

Mengying Xi, Tennessee State University


This research examines food access and environment in Davidson County, Tennessee. Integrated micro-level datasets were created from various data sources for empirical analysis and geographical mapping. Davidson has 31 food deserts among 161 census tracts. Differences in food access are striking between low-access and sufficient-access areas. Half of urban tracts are low income and half have low access to supermarkets. Half of the population in low-access areas live more than one mile from a supermarket, compared with 3-5% in sufficient-access areas. About 29% of the population in food deserts have low access and low income, compared with about 1% in sufficient-access areas. About 8% of house units have no access to a vehicle in food deserts, compared with less 1% in other areas. Half of the children and seniors have low access to supermarkets in low-access tracts, compared to 3-5% in sufficient-access areas. Low-access areas have fewer retailers for healthy foods than sufficient-access areas. Low-income areas have more retailers for unhealthy foods than higher-income areas. The distribution of retailers for unhealthy foods appears to be driven by income levels instead of by food access, which drives the differences in retailers for healthy foods. Food deserts have on average significantly fewer supermarkets, more supercenters and more retailers for unhealthy foods than other areas. The evidence supports the anecdote that Wal-Mart tends to locate in low-income areas, and the hypothesis that food deserts have fewer supermarkets than in other areas. There is no significant difference in the number of fast food restaurants and in overall restaurant access between food deserts and other neighborhoods. The evidence does not support the hypothesis that food deserts may have more fast food restaurants than other areas. Food-access problems are concentrated and pronounced in food deserts and low-access areas, suggesting solutions can be focused on these neighborhoods and particular issues. Low-income and sufficient-access neighborhoods have high numbers of retailers for healthy and unhealthy foods and may provide insights on finding solutions. Empirical evidence and insights from this study contribute to science-based knowledge and help develop effective policies and programs that improve healthy food access.

Subject Area

Agricultural economics|Nutrition

Recommended Citation

Mengying Xi, "Food access and environment in Davidson County, Tennessee: A comparison between food deserts and other neighborhoods" (2015). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI1601610.