Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Retail Food Environments Research in Canada: A Scoping Review

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Retail Food Environments Research in Canada: A Scoping Review

Article excerpt

Unhealthy diets, which are common in Canada,1,2 are important modifiable primary risk factors for many non-communicable diseases.2-4 Dietary behaviours and their downstream effects on health are constrained and embedded within individuals' social, economic and physical environments.5-9 Indeed, poor diets may be a logical response to current food environments, which typically promote the purchase of energydense, nutrient-poor foods.10 The food environment includes geographic access to retail food sources as well as marketing within those sources.8

Food environments, which are often (although inconsistently) associated with dietary behaviours and downstream effects on health status,7,11-15 are a rapidly expanding area for both research and policy and program development in North America.5-9 Although several peer-reviewed literature reviews have summarized the state of the evidence on associations between retail food environments and health,7,11-13,15-17 none has focused specifically on Canadian retail food environments. This is important, because existing reviews of Canadian retail food environment studies have found that Canada may face unique food environment issues. For example, unlike the situation in the US,18 there is a lack of evidence for the widespread existence of "food deserts" in Canadian cities (neighbourhoods that are simultaneously materially deprived and have low geographic access to nutritious, affordable food sources).8,19 On the other hand, urban "food swamps" (neighbourhoods that are both materially deprived and have high geographic access to food retailers perceived as promoting mainly minimally nutritious food options such as fast food outlets and convenience stores) seem to be common.8,19 Therefore, initiatives like the US Department of Health and Human Services Healthy Food Financing Initiative,9 which aims to ameliorate food deserts by promoting fresh, nutritious food provisioning, may not be useful within the urban Canadian context. However, research in Canada's northern and remote communities has not yet used objective measures of the retail food environment.20,21 Therefore, while these communities may well be considered food deserts by local residents, no empirical evidence has yet quantified the extent of food deserts in northern Canada or the impacts on nutritional health.8,19

As Canadian public health decision-makers and practitioners8,22-25 and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)26 are increasingly recognizing their role in creating and supporting healthy food environments, there is an urgent need to synthesize Canadaspecific food environments literature to support evidence-based decision-making. Therefore, the objective of this scoping review is to provide an overview of peer-reviewed Canadian retail food environments research and commentary by describing emerging research topics and findings, identifying knowledge gaps and suggesting future directions for research and practice.


Conceptual framework

Glanz and colleagues' widely-cited conceptual model of community nutrition environments theoretically underpins the current review.27 The model specifies various environmental variables that influence eating patterns, including the community nutrition environment, which is typically reflected in measures of geographic food access, and the consumer nutrition environment, which includes the availability of nutritious foods, in-store marketing and the availability of nutrition information in restaurants. Individual socio-demographic factors are thought to moderate or mediate relationships between food environments and eating patterns. This review focuses on features of community and consumer nutrition environments (hereafter the retail food environment).


PubMed, Web of Science, PsychInfo, ERIC and Scopus were searched in July 2015 for peer-reviewed articles published in English up to and including June 2015. A broad range of terms relevant to the retail food environment were used in various combinations, and these are presented in Table 1. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.