Improving Access to Healthy Foods in Kentucky

By Daniel Kahl, CEDIK Associate Director and Jayoung Koo, CEDIK Community Design Specialist

You can’t get that here!

At the beginning of a new year many people make resolutions to improve their diet by eating healthier. But eating healthier is not always as easy as making a resolution to do so.  In a recent study,  Survey of SNAP Food Providers in Eight Kentucky Counties: Store Access and Availability of Food Types the barriers of access to healthy foods became evident.

A survey was conducted of stores accepting SNAP electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards in the Kentucky counties of Bourbon, Boyle, Breathitt, Jackson, Knott, Lincoln, Madison, and Owsley.  The survey was a component of research conducted by CEDIK at the University of Kentucky, in conjunction with the Kentucky Grocers and Convenience Store Association to gain a better understanding of local food environments and to learn more about grocery store policies and practices. While survey response numbers were small, this study revealed multiple barriers to healthy food access to consumers in the study area.

Access Impediments

Stores responding to the survey acknowledged that transportation can be an issue for customers. Lack of reliable personal transportation, restricted public transportation, and cost of travel all contribute to challenges of EBT card users when wanting to access stores. In addition, distances of travel in rural areas can often add to the challenge of access to groceries.

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Restricted Hours of Store Operation

Like many businesses, some stores operate on a regular business time schedule. SNAP food service providers who responded to the 2018 Grocer’s Survey in Central and Eastern Kentucky have hours of operation that overlap with a typical work day. This can create an accessibility issue for people working a typical 8am-5pm job. On average, consumers in Eastern Kentucky experience 49% fewer hours of access to food per week than consumers in Central Kentucky counties.

Limited Food Types

The types of foods available to customers in the study differed depending on the store’s main function. In particular, convenience stores were the most frequent respondents to the survey in the eight counties and had the most limited fresh or healthy food options. Availability of foods offered in the store were assessed by the percent of floor space dedicated to food type.  In a graphic comparison between Grocery and Convenience store type between Eastern and Central Kentucky regions, it is easy to see that food access in Eastern Kentucky is distinctly different than in the more populated counties in Central Kentucky.

Key Insights

While the number of businesses participating in this survey make it difficult to generalize broadly, the results did indicate challenges related to healthy food access for EBT Card users. Ultimately, the consumption of fresh, healthy foods is a two-part process that must be embraced by all parties involved to achieve the desired goal. Residents must be willing and purposeful to seek out and consume healthy foods, while food providers need to better supply stores with healthy food options and adjust business operations to accommodate their customers. Healthier eating is a resolution that needs to be supported by the entire community!  Want to learn more? See the full series of reports on Food Access on the CEDIK website.

Daniel Kahl is the Associate Director of CEDIK and an Assistant Professor in Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky.

Jayoung Koo is a CEDIK Community Design Specialist and an Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky.

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