THURSDAY, Feb. 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Having good full-service supermarkets in poor neighborhoods doesn't mean children will have healthier diets, a new study suggests.
"Low-income and ethnic minority neighborhoods are underserved by supermarkets relative to their higher-income counterparts, and it would appear to be logical that increasing availability of healthful foods could improve diets," said study author Brian Elbel, an associate professor of population health at New York University in New York City.
"However, we do not yet know whether or under what circumstances these stores will improve diet and health," Elbel explained in an NYU Langone Medical Center news release. "Food choice is complex, and the easy availability of lower-priced processed foods and pervasiveness of junk food marketing have implications for behavior change as well."
The researchers surveyed parents and other caregivers of children aged 3 to 10 in two neighborhoods in New York City. One neighborhood had a new, government-sponsored full-service supermarket that offered greater varieties of fresh, affordable fruit and vegetables, while the other did not.
Surveys were conducted before the opening of the new grocery store, five weeks after it opened and one year after it opened. Many of the participants were from minority groups and had low incomes.
There were some small, inconsistent changes in children's diets during the study period, the investigators found. However, the new supermarket did not appear to make a significant difference in the routine availability of healthy foods at home or in the children's eating habits, the findings showed.
The study, published online Feb. 26 in the journal Public Health Nutrition, is believed to be the first to use a comparison group to assess the effects of a government-subsidized supermarket on children's eating habits.
Poor neighborhoods are often considered to be "food deserts" due to the lack of healthy food choices for residents, the researchers noted. It has been suggested that giving people better access to fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods would improve children's eating habits and reduce their risk of obesity.
Elbel said further research is needed to learn whether availability of stores with a good selection of healthy foods can improve the eating habits of children and their families, where best to place such stores, how to make them successful, and what other public health policies or programs should accompany the opening of such supermarkets.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about child nutrition.