Human Environments Analysis Lab (HEAL)


Using GPS and activity tracking to reveal the influence of adolescents’ food environment exposure on junk food purchasing

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Canadian Journal of Public Health



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OBJECTIVES: This study examines the influence of adolescents’ exposure to unhealthy food outlets on junk food purchasing during trips between home and school, with particular attention to how exposure and purchasing differ according to child’s biological sex, mode of transportation, and direction to or from school.

METHODS: Between 2010 and 2013, students (n = 654) aged 9–13 years from 25 schools in London and Middlesex County, ON, completed a socio-demographic survey and an activity diary (to identify food purchases), and were observed via a global positioning system for 2 weeks (to track routes for trips to/from school). Spatial data on routes and purchase data were integrated with a validated food outlet database in a geographic information system, and exposure was measured as the minutes a child spent within 50 m of an unhealthy food outlet (i.e., fast food restaurants, variety stores). For trips involving junk food exposure (n = 4588), multilevel logistic regression was used to assess the relationship between exposure and purchasing.

RESULTS: Multilevel analyses indicated that adolescents’ duration of exposure to unhealthy food outlets between home and school had a significant effect on the likelihood of junk food purchasing. This relationship remained significant when the data were stratified by sex (female/male), trip direction (to/from school) and travel mode (active/car), with the exception of adolescents who travelled by bus.

CONCLUSION: Policies and programs that mitigate the concentration of unhealthy food outlets close to schools are critical for encouraging healthy eating behaviours among children and reducing diet-related health issues such as obesity.

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