Online Program

When is food insecure? Identifying spatial and temporal patterns in food acquisitions and nutrition in Chester, PA

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 1:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.

Eliza Whiteman, MS, MA, Department of City and Regional Planning, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Amy Hillier, PhD, School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Explaining geographic disparities in access to healthy food has been the subject of much research, yet little attention has been paid to the temporal dimensions of food access and health. This study seeks to better understand the dynamic food acquisition patterns of low-income individuals by evaluating how shoppers manage resource constraints with monthly benefit allocations and what role emergency food networks play in food security and the nutrition of low-income shoppers.


At baseline, we implemented a survey (n=719) in Chester, PA asking about where participants shop for food, use of food pantries, SNAP participation and food insecurity. A subset of participants (n=89) collected grocery receipts and recorded everywhere they acquired food (including food pantries) for a two week period. All receipts (including food pantry acquisitions) were coded for nutrient content. Three-dimensional mapping and statistical analysis tools were used to assess diet and spatiotemporal relationships of food acquisition.


Consistent with existing literature, this study found that SNAP recipients were nearly twice as likely to use food pantries as non-SNAP recipients (p<0.01). This relationship was strengthened for those living closer to food pantries, suggesting that proximity to emergency food sources plays an important role in utilization. Preliminary 3-D mapping indicates larger grocery expenditures early in the month with pantry usage increasing later in the month. Analysis of nutritional coding is ongoing.  



The temporal constraints of monthly assistance programs, and ensuing reliance on emergency food networks, have strong implications for the food security and nutritional intake of low-income shoppers.

Learning Areas:

Other professions or practice related to public health
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Discuss implications of spatial and temporal constraints on healthy food access. Evaluate nutritional content of food pantry acquisitions among shoppers in study.

Keyword(s): Nutrition, Built Environment

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have master's degrees in nutrition and in urban planning and have been a researcher on numerous studies on food access and the food environment. I have training in spatial, statistical and nutritional analysis.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.