Geographic Factors as Determinants of Food Security: A Western Australian Food Pricing and Quality Study
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Food affordability and quality can influence food choice. This research explores the impact of geographic factors on food pricing and quality in Western Australia (WA). A Healthy Food Access Basket (HFAB) was cost and a visual and descriptive quality assessment of 13 commonly consumed fresh produce items was conducted in-store on a representative sample of 144 food grocery stores. The WA retail environment in 2010 had 447 grocery stores servicing 2.9 million people: 38% of stores the two major chains (Coles® Supermarkets Australia and Woolworths ® Limited) in population dense areas, 50% were smaller independently owned stores (Independent Grocers Association®) in regional areas as well, and 12% Indigenous community stores in very remote areas. The HFAB cost 24% (p<0.0001) more in very remote areas than the major city with fruit (32%, p<0.0001), vegetables (26.1%, p<0.0005) and dairy (40%, p<0.0001) higher. Higher price did not correlate with higher quality with only 80% of very remote stores meeting all criteria for fresh produce compared with 93% in Perth. About 30% of very remote stores did not meet quality criteria for bananas, green beans, lettuce, and tomatoes. With increasing geographic isolation, most foods cost more and the quality of fresh produce was lower. Food affordability and quality may deter healthier food choice in geographically isolated communities. Improving affordability and quality of nutritious foods in remote communities may positively impact food choices, improve food security and prevent diet-sensitive chronic disease. Policy makers should consider influencing agriculture, trade, commerce, transport, freight, and modifying local food economies.
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