The lack of grocery stores in lower income areas is often blamed for poor diets as healthy, nutritious food isn’t readily available. A new study, however, says that building grocery stores for these neighborhoods might not be the solution as sociodemographics have a bigger impact on food choices than environment.

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The nonprofit think tank RAND Corporation studied eating habits in food deserts to see if building supermarkets would help people make healthier choices. They found that younger males without college degrees who received government food assistance were more likely to consume sugary beverages and foods with added sugar and fats. Older, college-educated males, on the other hand, ate more fruits and vegetables.

Making the case against the need for grocery stories, researchers discovered that social and demographic factors were almost twice as important as where someone shopped for food when it came to healthy eating habits. Instead, the team believes that focusing on educational programs and policy changes, like the debated soda ban, would have a greater impact.

A previous study by the United States Department of Agriculture showed that nutrition education plans actually affected a person’s eating habits. The SNAP Education and Evaluation Study (Wave II) found that low-income elementary school children and seniors who participated in the program increased their daily fruit and vegetable consumption.

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"While both the food shopping environment and sociodemographic characteristics were associated with eating more unhealthy food, the personal characteristics were more important," said Tamara Dubowitz, co-author of the study, in a statement. "This work suggests we need to do more than just trying to eliminate food deserts. We need strategies that can encourage healthy eating and discourage unhealthy eating."

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