Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. Environmental Studies Program


Gail Carlson


United States federal policy on food security measures food access based on proximity to supermarkets in order to identify areas for new supermarket construction. This approach has been shown to misrepresent food availability and disregard other factors that influence food access. I investigated food access in the city of Waterville, Maine, and compared my findings with the current United States Department of Agriculture proximity-based measurements. I identified every food location in Waterville and categorized each location based on the type of food establishment. The Waterville food environment consists of 129 food locations that fall into 29 food categories. Using a road network system in ArcGIS, I measured distances from residential housing units to grocery stores. The majority of Waterville residential housing units fall within 1 mile of the nearest grocery store. There were significant variations in the USDA classifications of low access census tracts compared to my analysis at the census block group level. Using a food shopping behavior survey of parents/guardians of children in the Alfond Youth Center After School Program, I found that grocery stores were the primary shopping source and most respondents bypassed the closest grocery store/stores when shopping for food at their first choice store. These results show that current proximity-based measurements of food access alone are not sufficient in measuring food access for a small city like Waterville. Research on food access must investigate other local drivers of food access such as consumer preferences, use of food assistance programs, food prices, and transportation.


Food Access, Food Environment, Proximity-based Food Measurements, USDA Low Access Low Income Indicators