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Background Food environment studies have focused on ethnic and income disparities in food access. Few studies have investigated distance travelled for food and did not aim to inform the geographic scales at which to study the relationship between food environments and obesity. Further, studies have not considered neighborhood design as a predictor of food purchasing behavior. Methods Atlanta residents (N = 4800) who completed a travel diary and reported purchasing or consuming food at one of five food locations were included in the analyses. A total of 11,995 food-related trips were reported. Using mixed modeling to adjust for clustering of trips by participants and households, person-level variables (e.g. demographics), neighborhood-level urban form measures, created in GIS, and trip characteristics (e.g. time of day, origin and destination) were investigated as correlates of distance travelled for food and frequency of grocery store and fast food outlet trips. Results Mean travel distance for food ranged from 4.5 miles for coffee shops to 6.3 miles for superstores. Type of store, urban form, type of tour, day of the week and ethnicity were all significantly related to distance travelled for food. Origin and destination environment, type of tour, day of week, age, gender, income, ethnicity, vehicle access and obesity status were all significantly related to visiting a grocery store. Home neighborhood environment, day of week, type of tour, gender, income, education level, age, and obesity status were all significantly related to likelihood of visiting a fastfood outlet. Conclusions The present study demonstrated that people travel sizeable distances for food and this distance is related to urban. Results suggest that researchers need to employ different methods to characterize food environments than have been used to assess urban form in studies of physical activity. Food is most often purchased while traveling from locations other than home, so future studies should assess the food environment around work, school or other frequently visited destinations, as well as along frequently traveled routes.


Institute for Health and Ageing

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Open Access Journal Article

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Open Access


© 2012 Kerr et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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