Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Geography and Environmental Science and Policy

Major Professor

Jayajit Chakraborty, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Russell Kirby, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Niedzielski, Ph.D.


Public Health, Obesity, Built Food Environment, GIS, Spatial Analysis


Research has shown that the suburbanization of supermarkets has created `food deserts', defined as areas where socially disadvantaged individuals lack access to nutritious food outlets. Additionally, the growing presence of fast-food restaurants has created `food swamps', or areas where socially disadvantaged individuals encounter an overabundance of unhealthy food outlets. While previous studies have analyzed either `food deserts' or `food swamps' using conventional statistical techniques, a more comprehensive approach that includes samples of both healthy and unhealthy entities and considers the variety of available food options is necessary to improve our understanding of the local food environment and related disparities.

This thesis addresses several limitations associated with previous geographic research on the built food environment through a case study that examines socio-demographic inequities in access to supermarkets and fast-food restaurants in Hillsborough County, Florida-- an urban area that has been severely affected by the obesity and food crisis plaguing the nation. An important goal is to examine the spatial and statistical association between socioeconomic deprivation and potential access to all supermarkets, healthiest supermarkets, all fast-food restaurants, and unhealthiest fast-food restaurants, respectively. This study utilizes precise locations of food retailers based on government codes, U.S. Census data, GIS-based network analysis, and a combination of conventional statistical measures and exploratory spatial analytical techniques. Specifically, local indicators of spatial association (LISA) are used to visualize how the relationship between socioeconomic deprivation and accessibility to food outlets varies geographically within the county, and identify the locations of food deserts and food swamps based on the statistical significance of spatial correlations.

Conventional statistical measures indicate that socioeconomically deprived neighborhoods are significantly less accessible to the healthiest supermarkets and more accessible to all fast-food restaurants. LISA significance maps reveal that food deserts are located in suburban and rural regions, food swamps are located closer to the urban center, and both are found along major highways in Hillsborough County. Logistic regression results show that race and ethnicity play an undeniably pervasive role in explaining the presence and location of both food deserts and food swamps. This research demonstrates the need to explore local variations in statistical relationships relevant to the study of the built food environment, and highlights the need to consider both healthy and unhealthy food outlets in geographic research and public policy initiatives that aim to address the obesity crisis.