Many Vets Lack Easy Access to Healthy Food Outlets

New research shows a lack of access to healthy foods for veterans, partially due to their residential patterns.


The nearly 21 million military veterans living in the U.S. are heavier than the civilian population, with 64% of the women and 76% of the men being overweight or obese. Why? It may have a lot to do with where they live, according to a study by researchers from University of Illinois at Chicago and Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital, among others. According to the study, 89% of veterans live in areas with few nearby food outlets that offer healthy, affordable food and fewer facilities for recreational activities.

The researchers used American Community Survey data to determine the percentage of veterans among the adult population in all continental U.S. census tracts in 2013. They then used proprietary data to construct measures of availability of food and recreational venues per census tract.

Related: Food Insecurity Among Veterans

In census tracts with high concentrations of veterans, residents had, on average, 0.5 supermarkets within a 1-mile radius, compared with census tracts with low concentrations of veterans, which had 3.2 supermarkets. Patterns were similar for grocery and convenience stores, fast food restaurants, parks, and commercial fitness facilities. Put another way, the residents in a high-concentration census tract were 72% less likely to live within 1 mile of a supermarket.

The researchers note that veterans’ residential patterns differ from those of the general population. Some states have a “disproportionate” number of veterans, partly because they tend to cluster near military installations and in rural areas. They also state that veterans may be more vulnerable to weight gain because of factors including service-connected disability, depression, and anxiety.

Related: Smoking and Food Insecurity: How to Solve a Dual Challenge?

Given recent recognition of the importance of availability of healthy foods and recreational venues to diet and physical activity, the researchers say, the environmental variations they found “raise questions about their potential effect on veterans’ health.”

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