RAND Partnering with Hill House Association to Study How New Grocery Store Will Affect Pittsburgh's Hill District

For Release

July 19, 2010

Pittsburgh's Hill District neighborhood will be the focus of a RAND Corporation study that will examine how a full-service grocery store can influence the health of residents served by the store, RAND announced today.

The $2.7 million study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will follow 1,000 households in the Hill District, where a new Shop 'n Save grocery store is scheduled to open in late 2011.

"The Hill House Association is excited to partner with RAND on this significant study and more importantly to learn of its findings," said Victor Roque, president and CEO of Hill House Association. "The study will serve as a national model for understanding the health benefits of residents of urban communities having access to a full-service grocer."

The five-year study will determine how access to a full-service grocery store in the Hill District affects food purchasing and diet in a neighborhood. Researchers from the nonprofit RAND Corporation will pay particular attention to changes or patterns in residents' choices of food options.

The RAND study is the first in the United States to examine how changing the food environment of a neighborhood by adding a full-service grocery store affects the overall health of local residents.

"The Hill District has not had a full-service grocery store in nearly 30 years," said Tamara Dubowitz, a policy researcher in the Pittsburgh office of RAND who will lead the study. "This is ground-breaking territory because we have the opportunity to meet and talk with residents and learn their grocery buying and eating habits before their new grocery store is built. Then we'll continue the research over the next several years to gauge how the new store affects their health and lifestyle over time."

Dubowitz said the study has three specific goals:

  • Understand current availability, prices and access to healthy and less-healthy food options within food retail venues before and after the introduction of a full-service grocery store
  • Determine how the introduction of a full-service grocery store changes food purchasing behaviors (such as where, what type and how often food is purchased, and the amount of money spent on food) and dietary intake
  • Examine how these associations may be affected by socio-cultural factors and neighborhood resident perception around issues of quality food access and availability.

"Many preventable illnesses are directly linked to the quality of the foods we eat," Dubowitz said. "But there is a tremendous gap in our understanding of how changing the neighborhood environment, and specifically geographic access to high quality healthy foods, can potentially affect residents' health. This study will be in instrumental in filling those gaps."

RAND will partner with the Hill House Association, and will be hiring 15 field data collectors and a full-time field coordinator to interview Hill District residents. A RAND field office will be located on the Hill House campus.

The Hill House Association is a comprehensive community service provider and facilitator that meets the needs of Hill District residents and diverse constituents in the Greater Pittsburgh area. By housing health, education and human service agencies under its roof, the Hill House serves as a one-stop resource and advocate for individuals looking to improve their lives. Over the past four decades, it is estimated that the Hill House has provided care and support for more than 500,000 children, adults and seniors living in urban environments. In 2008, nearly 70,000 were impacted directly or indirectly by Hill House programs.

RAND Health, a division of the RAND Corporation, is the nation's largest independent health policy research program, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on quality, costs and health services delivery, among other topics. The Pittsburgh office of RAND is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2010.

About the RAND Corporation

The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.