Four in 10 Chicago Parents Live in a Community with Limited Grocery Access, Linked to More Challenges in Healthy Eating for Kids

July 29, 2019

Four in 10 parents live in a Chicago community area with limited grocery access, and they report more challenges to healthy eating for their children, such as time for sit-down family meals, cost of healthy foods, and convenience of fast food, according to results of a new survey released by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH).

Parents who live in a community area with limited food access were more likely to report many challenges to their children’s healthy eating (30 percent) than those who did not live in a community area with limited food access (18 percent). Lower household income, which can be a proxy for food access, also was tied to higher odds of parents listing many challenges to healthy eating for their children. Thirty-nine percent of parents with a household income below the federal poverty line report many challenges to their children’s healthy eating compared with 12 percent of parents with a household income 400% above the federal poverty line.

 “In this report, we are able to understand parents’ voices in the context of what is known about their access to fresh groceries,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Senior Vice-President and Chief of Community Health Transformation at Lurie Children’s, and Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, Medical Social Sciences, and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This is not only an issue of nutrition. Better access to grocery stores and fresh fruits and vegetables helps kids be healthier overall, learn better in school and avoid future health issues, such as obesity.”

 “These findings underscore the importance of continuing to address limited food access as it affects the health of multiple generations,” says CDPH Acting Commissioner Allison Arwady, MD, MPH. “We need to focus on community-level strategies that make healthy eating easier, in addition to those that support parents and children, when addressing problems as complex as food access in Chicago neighborhoods.”

Improving food access is one of the stated priorities of Healthy Chicago, the City’s plan to improve health equity. Through Healthy Chicago, the City has set a number of strategies to improve food access. To this end, the City has worked to bring new supermarkets to underserved neighborhoods, expand farmers markets, support the launch of a mobile market, and establish more open-spaces for community food growth. Schools, parks and libraries now offer food service programs to expand access to healthy food to our residents, particularly youth, and serve nutritious meals. Chicago Public Schools (CPS), in particular, has made great strides to set high nutrition standards and guarantee that all students have access to free, healthy meals. While these are positive steps toward health equity, more resources are needed to ensure that these efforts can be expanded and sustained, and that new, creative solutions to improve the conditions that support equitable food access are considered.

Survey results are based on the 2017-18 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr., that was developed by Dr. Davis in collaboration with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research. Phone interviews were conducted with 3,310 adults, including 1,002 parents, December 2017 through June 2018. Households across Chicago were randomly selected, with participants in all 77 community areas.

To share the survey results, Dr. Davis and his team at Lurie Children’s launched “Voices of Child Health in Chicago,” a research program focused on bringing the perspectives of Chicagoans to inform dialogue and action about child health in the city. On a regular basis, data briefs are issued that report on a wide range of survey result topics that affect youth health. 

Population-focused child health research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 212,000 children from 49 states and 51 countries.