Abstract for: Addressing Equity Gaps in Healthy Food Access: A Meso-Level Model of Food Innovation, Distribution and Acceptance

The ubiquitous presence of obesogenic food and poor access to calorie-poor nutrient-rich food has been responsible for a marked difference in diet quality across socio-economic classes. While market-driven healthy food innovations show the ability to sustain and grow over time, the availability and consumption of these products are predominantly within higher-wealth populations. We draw upon extant research and literature on food environments, distribution, access, acceptability and culture concentrating on regional and socio-demographic differences from which we construct a stylized meso-level behavioral dynamic nutritional food market transformation model following the system dynamics methodology. We simulate small and larger scale firm-, government- and social sector-led actions and policies targeting healthy food. Results show that classic single-actor market-led innovations have limited success in low-income areas due greatly to their poor food distribution networks, marketing infrastructure, and consumer acceptance which, resulting from low marginal benefit to improve each, collectively sustains disadvantages for low-income areas. Additionally, uptake is constrained by inertia from habituation and group norms that entrench existing food behavior. These mechanisms, while significant causes of market failures underlying equity gaps, also serve as significant leverage points for healthy-diet promoting multi-stakeholder interventions for healthy diet promotion such as community-based nutritional education and infrastructure improvement.