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Income Segregation and Access to Healthy Food

      Introduction

      Differences in diet quality across socioeconomic groups are a key contributor to health gradient. An agent-based model was developed to explore how income segregation affects food access for poor households under idealized circumstances where the poor have the same knowledge of and preferences for healthy food as the nonpoor.

      Methods

      The agent-based model featured households with heterogeneous incomes and automobile ownership characteristics on the basis of 2016 U.S. Census Bureau data. Households had identical preferences and were perfectly informed about the prices and availability of food products in different grocery stores. The model featured 2 fully informed competing grocery stores that chose their locations, product lines, and prices to maximize profits. The model was simulated for different levels of income segregation. The model in this article was created and analyzed in 2019.

      Results

      With no segregation, the rich and the poor households had comparatively equal access to grocery stores (in terms of travel distance) and healthy food (in terms of availability). With high segregation, poor households were forced to travel farther for groceries and may find healthy food unavailable at the grocery stores closest to their homes. Incentivizing grocery stores to locate equitably would require offering them substantial subsidies.

      Conclusions

      The model demonstrates that even under idealized conditions of perfect information and fully rational consumers, income segregation leads to adverse consequences for healthy food access by the poor. Agent-based modeling is useful to explore important hypothetical scenarios and should be considered as one of many worthwhile complementary frameworks to study complex topics.
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