Association between healthy food availability and emergency department presentations for diet-related illness [poster]
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Public policy and health research increasingly recognize the impact of diet, nutrition, and place upon the health of individuals and communities. Glaring examples have been found in rural and urban areas where it is difficult to affordably obtain foods needed to maintain a healthy diet. Life in these “food deserts” has been correlated with poorer nutrition and a higher prevalence of hunger. Researchers have also suggested that exposure to food deserts contributes to the development and exacerbation of chronic problems like diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and vascular disease. However, few studies have explicitly examined this connection. Understanding the link between food availability and diet-related illness may help explain certain health disparities and point to contributing modifiable environmental factors. Our study aims to examine if there are correlations between emergency department (ED) presentations for diet-related complaints and living in a “food desert”. We plan to use geographic information systems (GIS) to analyze food outlet data from St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health in order to define local “food desert” areas by US Census tract block groups. We will then analyze data from Regions Hospital ED visits using GIS to similarly map patient's presentations for diet-related complaints (malnutrition, diabetes, and hypertension). Finally, we will use spatial regression analysis to look for associations between these two geographic models of ED presentations for diet-related illness and “food desert” areas of low healthy food availability as mapped by block group, while controlling for multiple covariates derived from US Census 2010 data.