Fresh vegetables abound at this farmers market in Nashville, Tennessee. But rural residents in places like Orangeburg County, South Carolina, are far less likely to have good access to such healthy foods.
Photo: Shawn Poynter, Center for Rural Strategies

As rural Americans get ready for another round of holiday feasts, a study from South Carolina shows rural families may have a tougher time putting healthy foods on the table.

That’s because rural areas tend to have a greater percentage of convenience stores, which offer far fewer choices of fresh vegetables and fruits (unless, of course, you classify watermelon-flavored bubble gum as a fruit).

The study of Orangeburg County, S.C., found that about three quarters of the county’s food stores were convenience stores, and only about a quarter were grocery stores or supermarkets. Studies of urban areas have found the percentage of convenience stores ranges from only 8 to 41 percent.

Grocery stores and supermarkets are far more likely to carry healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain breads. And, when convenience stores do carry healthy food, the items are more expensive, the study found.

Under such conditions, it’s far easier to find a bag of chips and a bottle of soda than fresh broccoli. “The relative availability of healthy versus unhealthy items is way out of whack, so people have much more availability of unhealthy foods,” said Tom Farley, a professor of community health sciences at Tulane University. Farley’s comments appear in an article about the S.C. study in Health Central.

As Health Central reported, “Low-fat/nonfat milk, apples, high-fiber bread, eggs and smoked turkey were available in 75 percent to 100 percent of supermarkets and grocery stores versus 4 percent to 29 percent of convenience stores. Just 28 percent of all stores sold any of the fruits or vegetables included in the survey — apples, cucumbers, oranges and tomatoes. Convenience stores tended to charge more for items than did supermarkets.”

A convenience store in Irvine, Texas.
Photo by Wilhelmja

The study also notes that rural residents are far more likely to suffer from a range of health problems ““ diabetes, hypertension, obesity. And they are more likely to live sedentary lifestyles.

The lead author of the study, Angela Liese of the University of South Carolina, says nutritionists need to consider rural areas when they are making their dietary recommendations.

“I think it’s a matter of raising awareness among health professionals “¦ that when we typically give people a recommendation to eat more fruits and vegetables, that is actually so much more complicated in a rural environment,” she told Health Central.

Orangeburg County lies south of Columbia, S.C. About two-thirds of its population is rural by Census definition. Rural Census tracts had higher percentages of convenience stores than urban Census tracts in the county, as well.

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