The time cost of access to food – Distance to the grocery store as measured in minutes

Karen S. Hamrick, David Hopkins

Time use, grocery shopping, food desert, trip chaining, transportation, food access, travel time

Time use diaries are rich in information, including where and when respondents travel from place to place. Travel estimates, as well as variety of contextual information on travel, can be generated from time use data. However, using the data for travel analysis is difficult and involves detailed understanding of how the data are coded. Presented here is a methodology for estimating travel time using the time diaries from the 2003-07 American Time Use Survey. As an illustration of the methodology, the authors estimate travel time to grocery shopping. These estimates are of interest as a policy concern in the United States is whether or not some poor areas of the country have access to supermarkets that offer the variety of foods needed for a healthy diet, and in particular, fresh fruits and vegetables. Neighborhoods that have limited access to supermarkets are referred to as “food deserts.” The authors found that individuals living in low-income areas with limited supermarket access spend significantly more time (an average of 19.5 minutes) traveling to grocery shopping than the national average (15 minutes), and in addition, they grocery shop less frequently, and they are more likely to be accompanied by children during travel to grocery shopping.