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Food deserts and location economics

Authors
  • Vitaliano, Donald F.1
  • 1 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 23 Kester Lane, Troy, NY, 12180-6516, USA , Troy (United States)
Type
Published Article
Journal
SN Business & Economics
Publisher
Springer-Verlag
Publication Date
Jan 21, 2022
Volume
2
Issue
2
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s43546-021-00183-1
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
Disciplines
  • Original Article
License
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Abstract

People who must travel more than one mile to purchase fresh and healthy food are defined by the US Department of Agriculture as living in a ‘food desert’. An extensive literature has evolved on the subject, but it lacks an economic model or empirical evidence to explain food deserts. This paper estimates an economic location model to explain the occurrence of 4066 ‘food desert’ census tracts in 363 urban areas. The model determines the radius of a circular market area of the smallest profitable supermarket in each area, based on shoppers’ travel cost, household food purchases, and supermarket fixed costs. The model parameters are estimated for each urban area, and the mean radius is 3.25 miles, which suggests the present food deserts one mile definition is not well-grounded since the average distance in a circular market is 2/3 its radius. The number of food desert census tracts is very sensitive to the market size radius of the smallest supermarkets, with an elasticity of − 4.17, and the presence of a Walmart increases the count of food deserts by 20.

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