Retail Food Store Access in Rural Appalachia: A Mixed Methods Study

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To describe how characteristics of food retail stores (potential access) and other factors influence self-reported food shopping behavior (realized food access) among low-income, rural Central Appalachian women.

Design and Sample:

Cross-sectional descriptive. Potential access was assessed through store mapping and in-store food audits. Factors influencing consumers' realized access were assessed through in-depth interviews. Results were merged using a convergent parallel mixed methods approach. Food stores (n = 50) and adult women (n = 9) in a rural Central Appalachian county.


Potential and realized food access were described across five dimensions: availability, accessibility, affordability, acceptability, and accommodation. Supermarkets had better availability of healthful foods, followed by grocery stores, dollar stores, and convenience stores. On average, participants lived within 10 miles of 3.9 supermarkets or grocery stores, and traveled 7.5 miles for major food shopping. Participants generally shopped at the closest store that met their expectations for food availability, price, service, and atmosphere. Participants' perceptions of stores diverged from each other and from in-store audit findings.


Findings from this study can help public health nurses engage with communities to make affordable, healthy foods more accessible. Recommendations are made for educating low-income consumers and partnering with food stores.

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