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Access to Healthy Food 

General information

Access to healthy food describes the distance to, cost of, and quality of healthy food. Food access is often measured using the modified food retail environment index (mRFEI), which is a score based on the availability of healthy and non-healthy food retailers in a given neighborhood (Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative, Applying Social Determinants of Health Indicator Data for Advancing Health Equity: A Guide for Local Health Department Epidemiologists and Public Health Professionals). Scores correspond to the level of access to healthy food, ranging from high access to no access. Access to healthy food provides nutritious food that can help individuals practice healthy eating and other health-promoting activities (Timperio A, Ball K, Roberts R, et al. Children’s fruit and vegetable intake: Associations with the neighborhood food environment. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2008;46(4): 331-5.).

Key Findings

  • In San Mateo County, Pacifica, Montara, Moss Beach, and East Palo Alto have poor or no access to healthy food.
  • Woodside has the highest access to healthy food in the county.


  • Data were obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s analysis of the modified retail food environment index (mRFEI).
  • Data were mapped using ArcGIS for Desktop.


  • Data may have some error as of 2015 due to data being collected in 2011 and possibility that small food retailers were not counted, especially in areas that were identified as having poor or no access to healthy food.
  • The mRFEI scores are not reliable for small areas where there is likely to be a smaller number of food retailers that would have a disproportionally large impact on the analysis.