Where does a family get their food?
When investigating how best to improve diet quality among Americans, one way we can gain insight into their nutritional behavior is to analyze how and where families get food. A recent report by the USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) reports these on average weekly food spending. The study includes data from over 4,800 households collected during a one-week period, which compare rural versus urban households, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and non-SNAP users, and various regions of the US to shed light on the current food acquisition landscape.
The survey provided 9 categories of food acquisition locations, ranging from large grocery stores to school cafeterias and places of worship, where people reported obtaining food. Over 99% of households reported having at least one food acquisition event where they obtained food items from any of the location categories. Although 87% percent of participants reported acquiring food from large grocery stores, acquisitions from restaurants were twice as frequent as a large grocery store. However, frequencies varied within SNAP and non-SNAP users, and rural versus urban environments. Rural households spend less money at restaurants than urban families and reported a higher rate of obtaining food from their own means of production, such as gardening or hunting. SNAP users also reported a higher frequency of shopping at large supermarkets compared to non-SNAP users. This difference may be due to the fact that, while SNAP benefits may be used at most large grocery stores, these benefits are not redeemable for most hot and prepared foods like would be found at most restaurants.
Although there was no significant difference between weekly food spending between rural and urban areas, the report shows differences between region and SNAP usages. Average weekly spending per households was $78. However, spending for SNAP households was around $7-$36 less than non-SNAP households. The Midwest region of the US also spent an average of $10 less per capita than the West. The survey also reports on events respondents attended where food was acquired for free, such as with family or at places of worship. With 30% of all food events within a week, SNAP users reported the highest percentage of this method of acquisition in comparison to the average of 22% for non-SNAP users.
This report is the first of its kind to report on the places that families obtain food, and the findings point to a wide variety of food acquisition locations. These findings are particularly useful in showing differences in food acquisition patterns between populations in the US and can help shape policy to best deliver nutritional support to communities in applicable and informed ways.