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COVID Heightened Disparities In Food Access, Ohio State Study Finds

A man wearing a face mask walks out of a Marc's Store, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
Tony Dejak
/
Associated Press
A man wearing a face mask walks out of a Marc's Store, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

An Ohio State University study indicates existing disparities in access to food only grew during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers used anonymized cell phone data to track traffic to grocery stores around the city.

Lead author Armita Kar is a doctoral student in geography, and she explains people in low income areas often face long trips to grocery stores.

“During COVID since they didn’t have these nearby grocery stores and super markets, they used to depend on dollar stores and local stores a lot,” Kar said.

The study shows grocers in affluent areas saw traffic plummet as patrons limited in-person trips, presumably buying in bulk or ordering online. But in lower income areas residents didn’t have the same flexibility. Kar said traffic patterns showed them continuing to make regular trips to nearby discount stores for food.

Kar and her co-authors argue their findings underscore the need for better access to healthy food and transportation.

"Provide access to healthier food options in these low income areas,” Kar suggests. “We can always improve transportation and provide really good public transportation services from these communities to the superstores we currently have."