Awhile ago, I wrote a post about the distance that the average person in St Vital lives from a grocery store. Since then I came across a metric called ‘food balance.’ This ratio, developed by the Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group in the United States, compares the distance to a grocery store to the distance to ‘fringe food’ such as fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Grocery stores are not always good, but they make it possible to purchase the food necessary for a healthy diet. Conversely, fringe food locations are not inherently bad, but if it were the primary food source, health would likely suffer.
The idea behind the measure is that people are more likely to purchase from a business if they live closer to it. If fast food is just down the block, you are more likely to purchase it than if it is a few miles away.
When a community is in balance, a grocery store will be equally far away as a fringe food establishment. Theoretically, this makes it as easy to access as a fringe food restaurant. When this happens the ratio is 1.0. A number smaller than one is the best outcome. It means that grocery stores are closer than fringe food. Conversely, a larger number indicates that grocery stores are harder to access than fringe food. The Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group then linked this to health data to indicate that there are likely negative health repercussions for communities with high food balance scores.
So how does St Vital fare?
The news is both good and bad. Some neighbourhoods fare quite well. Dakota Crossing does the best, with a food balance of 0.7. This means that fast food restaurants are further away than grocery stores. Interestingly, the distance to a grocery store is further in Dakota Crossing than many other neighbourhoods, but it is even further to a fast food outlet.
A few other neighbourhoods scored quite well. Vista and Victoria Crescent were both narrowly below 1.0 while River Park South, St Vital Perimeter South, and Minnetonka were all under 1.1. All of these neighbourhoods are essentially in ‘food balance.’
On the other end of the scale, Varennes fares worst with a food balance of 2.75. It is not that far from grocery stores (0.99 km) but is even closer to fast food (0.36 km). Norberry, Lavalee, St George, and Elm Park all have food balance scores above 2.0.
Interestingly, four of the five neighbourhoods with the best food balance are south of Bishop Grandin while all five of the worst – and nine of the worst ten – are in St Vital North. Overall, St Vital North has a rather poor food balance score of 1.56, compared with St Vital South’s excellent score of 0.97. In other words, St Vital South is in food balance while the North is not. On the other hand, groceries are actually closer in the north (1.10 km) than in the south (1.41 km). The difference is that in the north, fast food is 0.71 km away as opposed to 1.45 km in the north.
The research of Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group indicates the potential for negative public health consequences from a high food balance. As we plan our neighbourhoods and communities, it should be an issue of concern that one region of St Vital has a very poor food balance.