Background

Increasing rates of obesity correspond to changes in local food environments. Past research on food-environment change has demonstrated progressive increases in proximity to and density of businesses offering food/drink. Unfortunately, past research has been limited in important ways: (1) considering only select storefront businesses (i.e., so-called “food stores,” restaurants); (2) focusing only on how businesses identify (e.g., grocery store, fast-food outlet) rather than what they sell; (3) describing only ecological comparisons; (4) being restricted to multi-year intervals.

Methods

Longitudinal, matched-pair comparison of 119 street segments in the Bronx, NY, October 2016 to August 2017. Investigators assessed all businesses (“food stores,” restaurants, other storefront businesses [OSBs; laundromats, hair salons, gyms, hardware stores, etc.], and street vendors) for healthful and less-healthful food/drink offerings, determining business-level changes.

Results

Some businesses newly opened, some shut down, some changed their food/drink offerings; overall, the number and percentage of all businesses offering any food/drink increased from 2016 (n=45, 41.7%) to 2017 (n=49, 45.8%). Although more “food stores” offered nuts in 2017 than 2016, and more restaurants offered whole grains, these changes were exceeded by increasing numbers of other businesses—OSBs and street vendors—offering less-healthful food/drink (e.g., candy, salty snacks, sugar-sweetened beverages). OSBs and street vendors together represented 20.0% of businesses offering healthful items and 27.3% of businesses offering less-healthful/obesogenic items in 2016; they represented 31.0% and 37%, respectively, in 2017.

Conclusions

Neighborhood food/drink sources can be diverse and change rapidly (e.g., become increasingly obesogenic). If change is unappreciated, and the full extent of food/drink offering not considered, communities may misdirect resources to address risk for obesity.