COVID-19 exacerbates unequal food access

New publication: Kar, A., Motoyama, Y., Carrel, A., Miller, H.J. and Le, H.T.K. (2021) “COVID-19 exacerbates unequal food access,” Applied Geography, 134, 102517.

Abstract. Inequality to food access has always been a serious problem, yet it became even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated social inequality and reshaped essential travel. This study provides a holistic view of spatio-temporal changes in food access based on observed travel data for all grocery shopping trips in Columbus, Ohio, during and after the state-wide stay-at-home period. We estimated the decline and recovery patterns of store visits during the pandemic to identify the key socio-economic and built environment determinants of food shopping patterns. The results show a disparity: during the lockdown, store visits to dollar stores declined the least, while visits to big-box stores declined the most and recovered the fastest. Visits to stores in low-income areas experienced smaller changes even during the lockdown period. A higher percentage of low-income customers was associated with lower store visits during the lockdown period. Furthermore, stores with a higher percentage of white customers declined the least and recovered faster during the reopening phase. Our study improves the understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on food access disparities and business performance. It highlights the role of COVID-19 and similar disruptions on exposing underlying social problems in the US.

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