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Estimating Access to a High Quality Diet for Older Adults in Springfield, Massachusetts

Seventy five percent of older adults are affected by multiple chronic diseases. Consuming a high quality diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein assists with chronic disease prevention and management. Healthful food availability is a major determinant of individual eating behaviors. The purpose of the current study was to describe the types, variety, and density of food outlets and to estimate access to a high quality diet for older adults in an urban setting. The Community Nutrition Environment Evaluation Data System (C-NEEDS) survey and restaurant menus were used to determine availability of healthful food in thirteen neighborhoods in Springfield, Massachusetts. A "Dietary Guidelines for Americans Adherence Index Food Environment" (DGAIFE) algorithm was created to estimate access to a high quality diet based on the stores and restaurants within the study area. Environmental characteristics that are recognized as facilitators or barriers to a high quality diet were added to the DGAIFE algorithm to calculate a "Dietary Guidelines for Americans Adherence Index Food Environment plus Environmental Characteristics" (DGAIFEC) score. The DGAIFE and DGAIFEC score ranges for all study areas were 1.53-2.25 and 1.38-2.50, respectively (possible range 1.00 higher to 5.00 lower access). Access to a high quality diet is within reach but not equal across the thirteen study areas. The findings can be used by Registered Dietitians to guide clients to make healthful food choices in urban neighborhoods and provides information to improve public health policy to increase access to healthful foods.