Methods: Food retailers in two food USDA defined desert neighborhoods in two urban cities in Ohio were evaluated annually for three years (2015-2017) using a tool adapted from the Nutrition Environmental Measures Survey in Corner Stores to quantify availability, price, and quality of 13 different food items with healthy and unhealthy counterparts, as well as the Bridging the Gap-Community Obesity Measures Project (NEMS-CS/BTG-COMP) tool to capture external advertising. Food retailers were identified each year through ground-truthing within specified neighborhood boundaries and audited on the same day of the week within 1 year +/- 2 weeks of their original evaluation.
Results: Overall, 62 food retailers were evaluated at least once in the three years. The majority of these retailers (62.9%) were convenience stores or gas stations. Four retailers (e.g., dollar store, pharmacy, and 2 convenience stores) closed down permanently—1 of which remained vacant—and 4 new retailers (e.g., 2 dollar stores, pharmacy, and convenience store) opened—1 was newly constructed while 3 took the place of a previously closed food retailer. In examining within-store change, on average, retailers saw a 1.4% decrease in healthy foods available in 2016 and a 0.6% increase in 2017. Variety of select healthy foods decreased by 32.5% in 2016 and by 10% in 2017. Prices of healthy foods increased (1.3%) in 2016 but in 2017, the price decreased (-4.5%). Quality remained the same across all three years
Conclusion: Findings highlight local food environments in low-resource neighborhoods are dynamic spaces with stores opening and closing and food options changing. Yet, the net change was limited except for variety of healthy foods available. Over three years, variety of healthy foods decreased. Findings provide guidance for developing tools to evaluate the dynamics of food environments to inform research, policy, and practice.