Violent crime is a major public health issue. Currently, information on the relationship between food retail outlet availability and violent crime occurrence is limited.
Evaluate US county-level associations between the availability of healthy (grocery stores, supercenters, and farmers’ markets) and unhealthy (convenience stores and fast food restaurants) and violent crime rate after adjusting for socio-demographic factors. We hypothesized that counties with fewer healthy food retailers would have a higher violent crime rate.
Study Design, Settings, and Participants
Data collected in 2014 on 3,126 counties were obtained from two sources: The United States Department of Agriculture Food Environment Atlas and the United States Department of Justice Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Measures on resident socio-demographics (e.g., % Non-Hispanic black, % Hispanic, poverty rate, etc.), per capita food retail outlets, and per capita violent crimes were analyzed.
Violent crime rate reflects the total number of murders, robberies, forcible rapes, and aggravated assaults per 10,000 county residents. The CDC's Modified Retail Food Environment Index (mRFEI) was applied to assess the healthfulness of each county's retail food environment. Multivariable-adjusted linear regression models were used to examine associations between food retail outlet availability and violent crime rate.
After adjusting for socio-demographic measures, increased availability of grocery stores (P = .01) and farmers’ markets (P < .0001) was significantly associated with a lower violent crime rate. Furthermore, a higher mRFEI score (P = .0002) was associated with a lower violent crime rate. Increased availability of supercenters (P < .0001) and fast food restaurants (P < .0001) was associated with a higher violent crime rate.
US counties with fewer healthy food retailers had a higher violent crime rate after adjusting for socio-demographic factors. These findings highlight the need for additional research on the role of the retail food environment in community violence.