Trying to eat better? Close access to a grocery store may help

Oct. 26, 2014—Simply being motivated to eat healthier may not be enough to help you take control of your weight and overall wellness. Close access to healthy foods may also be important.

That’s the finding of a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It’s believed to be the first study to isolate proximity to grocery stores as a limiting factor in the ability of motivated people to make positive changes in their eating habits.

About the study

The study was done in Massachusetts and involved 204 adults who were obese—most of them were women, and most of them white. All were motivated to lose weight after getting a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. This condition is characterized by a large waist size and abnormalities in blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It increases a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The participants were asked to follow dietary recommendations that emphasized healthier eating, including increased intake of fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber.

During periodic phone interviews, participants reported what they had eaten. And when researchers looked at how far the participants had to travel from their homes to reach a grocery store that sold healthy foods, they found that the shorter that distance, the greater the gains in the participants’ consumption of fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber.

In other words, living in areas without close access to nutritious foods—called food deserts—made it harder to make the lifestyle changes that promote weight loss and healthy living.

To learn more, you can read the full study.

The take-home message
Easy access to healthy food may be as important as personal motivation and guidance from health care professionals when it comes to eating healthy. And, since previous research showed that improved access alone does not lead to healthier eating, it’s likely that a combination of motivation, education and access will produce the best results.

Eliminating food deserts

The U.S. government’s “Let’s Move” initiative is helping to finance solutions to eliminate food deserts that affect more than 23 million Americans.

A food desert is essentially an area without easy access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. A food desert may lack grocery stores or be served only by fast food and convenience stores. You can determine if you live in a food desert here.

If you live in a food desert, you can help your community gain access to more nutritious foods. Let’s Move urges residents to start conversations toward establishing healthy food resources. With support from local elected officials, it is possible to designate a community as a Let’s Move City or Town and begin taking steps to improve access to healthy foods.

Eating healthier

If you’re motivated to eat better, you can try these tips from Let’s Move and the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • Plan your meals for the week before grocery shopping. You can try making a large batch of food and freezing servings to eat throughout the week
  • Choose canned or frozen fruits and vegetables you can buy in bulk and that don’t have added sugars, syrup or cream sauces
  • Visit local farmers markets
  • Start a garden

The important thing is to focus on choosing small dietary and lifestyle changes that can make weight loss easier to reach.

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