Study Looks at Eating Habits

By Templeton, David | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 2, 2017 | Go to article overview

Study Looks at Eating Habits


Templeton, David, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Building a supermarket in an American food desert - a place where healthy food is largely unavailable - doesn't mean local residents begin stocking up on fruits and veggies.

Were it so simple.

As it turns out, eating behaviors, like many other habits in life, are hard to change with many individual and community factors involved.

A Rand study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, focused on Hill District and Homewood families, before and after the Shop 'n Save supermarket opened in the Hill District. Its main study, published previously, found little evidence that the new supermarket directly changed dietary habits in the Hill District. The new analysis shows that residents' food choices have a lot to do with who they are. Younger residents, males and those with less educational attainment were more likely to consume sugar-sweetened beverages and foods with added sugars and discretionary fats.

The study adds to others that show how populations - in this case predominantly African-American residents of neighborhoods that lacked a full-service supermarket - typically continue unhealthy dietary patterns that boost the risk of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease even after supermarket doors open.

The study goal was to understand ways to improve diet and cut the risk of chronic disease.

"The current study reinforces the need for policies and interventions at both environmental and individual levels to improve diets in food desert residents," the study says. Food choices can depend upon a person's gender, education and family situations and "might be particularly important for curbing intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars and discretionary fats."

Policies and interventions at the "environmental" level refer to the way food stores might present and market food. For example, displaying healthier foods more prominently or removing unhealthy choices from entranceways and checkout lines are potential ways to make healthy choices the default choice, said Tamara Dubowitz, the study's principal investigator, who serves as a senior policy researcher at Rand and leader of Pittsburgh Hill/Homewood Research on Neighborhood Change and Health. …

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