Study Reveals Produce Consumption Depends On Food Businesses Located Near Home

By Chistelle M. Clary & Yan Kestens, Université De Montréal’s Department Of Social & Preventive Medicine

A research team from the Université de Montréal has recently looked at whether the actual consumption of fruits and vegetables was related to the presence of certain types of food outlets and restaurants around the home.

Types of businesses in question were: supermarkets, grocery stores, fruit and vegetable shops, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores. The survey has been based on data from about 49,000 Canadians over the age of 18, living in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa between 2007 and 2010. This data was extracted from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) that collects each year information related to health status and health determinants for the Canadian population.

Meals Depend On Local Food

The study revealed that, for both men and women, a greater number of fruit and vegetable shops in the residential area was associated with a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables. Inversely, the consumption of fruits and vegetables decreased with the number of fast-food restaurants available around the home.

These findings highlight that procurement strategies for foods are partly related to the type of food businesses around the home. Easy access to food is often reported as a strong influence on food purchase in health research. Proximity from home may, therefore, be a purchase incentive.

Gender Variations In Procurement

The study has also shown that, for men only, the consumption of fruits and vegetables was further associated with the percentage of businesses selling a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables around the home. In short, the higher the overall number of supermarkets, fruit and vegetable stores and grocery stores compared to the overall number of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, the higher the fruit and vegetable consumption of men. Why? This may have to do with conformity to consumption norms. A predominance of a certain type of businesses in the environment may represent an authoritative judgment as to what one ought to purchase and eat. Thus, an area with a bountifulness of shops selling fruits and vegetables may unconsciously encourage men to purchase fruits and vegetables in order to adhere to the underlying consumption norms.

Why men and not women? Women are often reported to be more nutritionally knowledgeable, more sensitive to health concerns, and more attentive to price and quality of products when food shopping. They may, therefore, use other criteria than a normative benchmark to decide what to buy. This is a possible hypothesis, which remains to be validated, though.

Future Perspectives

Fruit and vegetables are important components of a healthy diet and may help prevent a wide range of diseases, from obesity to cardiovascular diseases to certain types of cancers. A growing number of people are concerned with their health, and health authorities tend to encourage populations to eat more fruits and vegetables. Yet, there is still room for reaching the national recommendations from Health Canada, which suggest a daily intake of 7 to 10 portions of fruits and vegetables every day for an adult.

In this study, women and men reported eating on average 4.4 and 3.5 portions of fruits and vegetables per day respectively, well below those recommendations. Reinforcing local offerings in fruits and vegetables may be an interesting avenue for encouraging individuals to purchase and eat more of this nutritious food, especially for men.

The Method

Self-reported fruit and vegetable intake from participants of four cycles (2007–2010) of the repeated cross-sectional Canadian Community Health Survey living in the five largest metropolitan areas of Canada (n = 49,403) was analyzed. Measures of exposure to the food environment around the home were computed at participants’ residential postal codes. Linear regression models, both in the whole sample and in gender- and city-stratified samples, were used to explore the associations between exposure measures and fruit and vegetable intakes

The Study

The study, Should We Use Absolute or Relative Measures When Assessing Foodscape Exposure in Relation to Fruit and Vegetable Intake? Evidence from a Wide-Scale Canadian Study was published in Preventive Medicine in December 2014. It was conducted at the Quebec Interuniversity Centre for Social Statistics which is part of the Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN). The services and activities provided by the QICSS are made possible by the financial or in-kind support of the SSHRC, the CIHR, the CFI, Statistics Canada, the FRQSC and the Quebec universities.