Relationships between vacant homes and food swamps: A longitudinal study of an urban food environment

Yeeli Mui, Jessica C. Jones-Smith, Rachel L.J. Thornton, Keshia Pollack Porter, Joel Gittelsohn

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Abstract

Research indicates that living in neighborhoods with high concentrations of boarded-up vacant homes is associated with premature mortality due to cancer and diabetes, but the mechanism for this relationship is unclear. Boarded-up housing may indirectly impact residents’ health by affecting their food environment. We evaluated the association between changes in vacancy rates and changes in the density of unhealthy food outlets as a proportion of all food outlets, termed the food swamp index, in Baltimore, MD (USA) from 2001 to 2012, using neighborhood fixed-effects linear regression models. Over the study period, the average food swamp index increased from 93.5 to 95.3 percentage points across all neighborhoods. Among non-African American neighborhoods, increases in the vacancy rate were associated with statistically significant decreases in the food swamp index (b = −0.38; 90% CI, −0.64 to −0.12; p-value: 0.015), after accounting for changes in neighborhood SES, racial diversity, and population size. A positive association was found among low-SES neighborhoods (b = 0.15; 90% CI, 0.037 to 0.27; p-value: 0.031). Vacant homes may influence the composition of food outlets in urban neighborhoods. Future research should further elucidate the mechanisms by which more distal, contextual factors, such as boarded-up vacant homes, may affect food choices and diet-related health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1426
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume14
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 21 2017

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Keywords

  • African American
  • Food environment
  • Food store
  • Food swamp
  • Low-SES
  • Neighborhood
  • Vacant home

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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