Inequalities and effects of food environments

MIT Human Dynamics 


While much work has been done studying the effect of food environments where we live, less is known about the food environments where we move through the day. City dwellers often move far away from our homes in the morning, and we get exposed to a variety of environments which until now had been hard to study. In this work, we use mobility data to answer the following questions: 

  • How close to home do we eat during the day, and what food environment has most influence on our food visits during the day?
  • Given a fixed set of available non-healthy food outlets, do having more or less healthy options change our visits to non-healthy food outlets?
  • Is there a correlation between our income and the food environment we get when we are far from home? 

So far we have found that 5x more people visit food outlets during lunchtime close to their morning location rather than their house, which highlights the importance of studying these environments. Moreover, using three different panels (everyone, people who moved their daily context from one place to another, people visiting an RMV/DMV) with different identification strategies, we find that the visits to unhealthy food outlets rise when people have fewer food alternatives. Finally, we also observe that the less income we have, the fewer alternatives we have closer than the first unhealthy food outlet around us.