Indexed on: 20 May '15Published on: 20 May '15Published in: Journal of Urban Health
Inadequate access to healthy food is a problem in many urban neighborhoods, particularly for racial-ethnic minorities and low-income groups who are more likely to reside in food deserts. Although substantial research throughout the country has documented the existence of these disparities, few studies have focused on how this access changes over time or is affected by environmental shocks. This study examined citywide supermarket access in New Orleans as well as racial-ethnic disparities in this access, prior to Hurricane Katrina and at three times afterwards. On-the-ground verification of supermarket locations was conducted in 2004-2005, 2007, 2009, and 2014 and was mapped with secondary demographic data. Census tracts were defined as predominantly African-American neighborhoods if 80 % or more of the population identified as such. HLM Poisson regression analyses were conducted in 2014 to identify the difference in likelihood of finding supermarkets in a neighborhood by race-ethnicity and across all years of interest. Racial-ethnic disparities existed before the storm and worsened after it (IRR = 0.35; 95 % CI = 0.21, 0.60). Improvements in disparities to pre-storm levels were not seen until 2009, 4 years after the storm. By 2014, supermarket access, on average, was not significantly different in African-American neighborhoods than in others (IRR = 0.90; 95 % CI = 0.65, 1.26). The slow recovery of New Orleans' retail food infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina highlights the need for an increased focus on long-term planning to address disparities, especially those that may be exaggerated by shocks.