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How the food environment affects dietary choices

How the food environment affects dietary choices

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New research examines how different factors in one’s food environment can affect food consumption and obesity. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • Healthy eating habits are essential for good health.
  • Many factors influence diet choices, including the environment and socioeconomic factors.
  • Recent research shows that income, education, access to fast food and grocery stores all have an impact on fruit and vegetable consumption.

Healthy lifestyles require a healthy diet that is balanced and nutritious. Researchers continue to discover which factors influence dietary choices.

A recent observational study was published in Nature CommunicationsExamines several environmental factors that could impact food choices.

The authors conclude that these factors have varying levels of influence across different sections.

Healthy eating habits are essential for good health. Experts are constantly evaluating the best dietary practices. However there are many general components to a healthy lifestyle.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO).A healthy diet should include these elements:

  • Daily, five portions or 400g (g) of fruits & vegetables
  • Whole grains, legumes, and nuts
  • Limitated amounts of fat
  • Limited amounts of additional sugar

Different people have different food preferences. Talking to a dietitian or doctor can help you create the right meal plan.

Healthy dietsAlso, it reduces the risk of certain health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Researchers are always trying to discover what factors influence people’s food choices. These factors can then be modified to help people make healthier food choices.

Investigating dietary choices is not an easy task. Study author Tim AlthoffThis is how it works Medical News Today:

It is difficult to study diets because they are often limited to small samples, single locations, and people’s memories of what they ate. This has made it difficult to compare diets across the United States, and has resulted in mixed results regarding the impact of the food environment.

Multiple factors impact food choices, including cultural backgrounds as well as lifestyles. The environment can also impact the diet of people, such as their access to healthy or unhealthy food options.

This study looked at how the following factors affected people’s weight, consumption of fruits, vegetables, and consumption of fast food and soft drinks.

  • Access to grocery shops
  • Fast food restaurants are easily accessible
  • education level
  • income level

The scientists used smartphone apps to log food preferences in order to study food choices in a large sample size. The study involved 1,164 926 participants from all parts of the U.S. The data were collected over seven years.

Tim Althoff explained the advantages of this data collection method. MNT:

This study makes use of the fact many people keep detailed notes on their diets via smartphone apps. We analyzed 2.3 billion food logs from smartphones in more than 9,800 U.S. ZIP codes. This data can be used to analyze diets across the entire population.

The study population was compared to national survey data. They collected socioeconomic and demographic factors from Census Reporter.

The scientists concluded that higher education, greater access to grocery stores and less access to fast food were all associated with:

  • Increased intake of fruits, vegetables and other nutrients
  • A lower intake of sodas and fast food
  • A lower prevalence of obesity and excess weight

Next, the scientists evaluated the impact of each factor among white, black, or Hispanic population. These associations varied slightly among these groups.

Researchers found that higher income levels are associated with lower fruit and vegetable consumption, higher obesity, and higher consumption of fast-food among Blacks.

They found that higher education and easier access to grocery stores were associated with higher vegetable and fruit consumption.

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Hispanics with higher incomes tended to have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables. The associations were less strong among whites.

These authors present their findings on grocery store access:

[H]Access to grocery stores is associated with higher fruit- and vegetable consumption in zip codes that have predominantly Hispanic population (7.4% difference) and Black population (10.2% difference) than zip codes that have predominantly white populations (1.7%).

Education levels had an impact on healthy food choices for all age groups. Higher education is linked to higher intake of fruits and vegetables, and lower levels of obesity.

There were limitations to the study. Researchers were unable to establish a causal link between the factors they looked at because of the nature of this study. The data was collected through self-reporting using a mobile application, which can lead sometimes to inaccuracies.

The authors acknowledge that their sample is not representative of the entire U.S. population. Their sample was affected by who was more likely use the app, usually women and people with higher incomes.

Tim Althoff noted that MNTData from smartphones applications can have serious quality and bias issues. Our study supports the conclusion that these data are valid. [correlate highly]With the existing gold-standard methods in this field.

He added that it is much more flexible and could be used to conduct public health research at unprecedented scale and granularity.

The authors hope that scientists will continue to do longitudinal studies, rather than cross-sectional, and include individual-level data in future.

The study suggests that increasing education and access to food can lead to healthier food choices. However, the plan and the focus of interventions might need to be adjusted for certain sub-populations.

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