Friday, April 12th, 2013
Room 204 of the Distance Learning Center Wing of the Urban Center on the Portland State University campus

Speaker: Junfeng Jiao, Assistant Professor in Urban Planning, Ball State University

Topic: Healthy Food Accessibility and Food Deserts in Seattle, Washington

Access to healthy food and the existence of food deserts have become important policy issues in the public health and community planning fields. Food deserts have been defined as populated areas which lack food sources, specifically where residents have little or no access to healthy food. Research has shown that living in food deserts can lead to poor diet control, higher levels of obesity, and other diet-related diseases. Identifying and eliminating food deserts have become a priority issue in national-level food and nutrition policies. However, the process has been hindered by various technique difficulties.

This research introduced a new way to measure healthy food access and to identify food deserts. Healthy food access was estimated through Geographic Information System from both physical and economic perspectives. In detail, physical access was calculated by testing whether the residents can travel to a supermarket through a 10-minute walk, bicycle, ride transit, or drive. Economic access was estimated by stratifying supermarkets into low, medium, and high cost and testing whether residents have access to supermarkets corresponding to their income levels. This is an imperative feature in this research as economic accessibility continues to increase in importance for families across the nation. Finally, combining income and access criteria generated multiple ways to identify food deserts. This method was successfully tested in Seattle, WA. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and was recently published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2012.


Dr. Junfeng Jiao is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban Planning at Ball State University. He received his PhD in Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington. He is interested in transportation accessibility, public health, and GIS/Smartphone applications in Urban Planning.