PHILADELPHIA–The Philadelphia Department of Public Health released a new report, Neighborhood Food Retail in Philadelphia, that found that the majority, 81%, of food stores in the city offer mostly unhealthy foods that are high in sugar, salt, and fat. The report also found that the poorer a neighborhood is, the more stores that sell mostly unhealthy products can be found. Conversely, as median income in a neighborhood rises, the number of healthy, or “high-produce supply,” stores increases while the number of “low-produce supply” stores goes down. Another key finding demonstrated that nearly 1 million Philadelphians have more than 20 stores with so-called “low-produce supply” within walking distance of their homes.
Overall, access to healthy food has been improving over time in the city, with an approximately 20% decline in the number of Philadelphians who lack walkable access to healthy food from 2014 to 2018. This was driven by an increase in both supermarkets (from 133 to 149) and produce stores (from 33 to 57). But the Neighborhood Food Retail report challenges us to think beyond the concepts of “food deserts” and supermarket access to consider the overall quality of food retail in our city’s neighborhoods and the impact of ubiquitous unhealthy food on the health of our city’s residents.
Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said, “This report shows just how skewed our food environment is toward unhealthy foods. Children grow up seeing chips and candy as normal snacks rather than occasional treats. And adults who may be trying to eat a healthy diet are constantly seeing the unhealthy snacks they may be trying to avoid.”
The Health Department is working to combat this by investing in neighborhood entrepreneurs interested in opening healthy food businesses with the Commerce Department and working with the Reinvestment Fund to invest in community-driven food justice projects. The City’s GetHealthyPhilly program continues to promote healthy food choices through partnerships with the School District of Philadelphia, the Mayor’s Office of Education, PHLpreK, the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, among others.
The Neighborhood Food Retail report was developed by the Health Department’s Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention division, which works to reduce chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, Type II Diabetes and injuries.This first-of-its-kind report looked at the density and proximity of both stores that offer healthier foods and stores that sell mostly unhealthy food options. This approach allowed the report to capture the intensity of marketing and the broad availability of unhealthy products at the neighborhood level. All of the data in the report has been made available through the City’s OpenDataPhilly portal at https://www.opendataphilly.org/dataset/neighborhood-food-retail.