Environmental Factors Impact People's Food Choices

The Lempert Report
April 26, 2022

A recent study in Nature Communications took a look at what environmental factors impact people’s food choices. What is interesting about the study – beyond the resulting observations is that it was conducted on a mobile app. The study did have limitations. Because of the nature of the study itself, the researchers could not determine a causal relationship between the factors they examined. The data collected relied on self-reporting through a mobile app, which as we all know can lead to inaccuracies. The authors also reported that their sample was an imperfect representation of the U.S. population because the sample of population was impacted by who was more likely to use the app, typically those are women and people with higher income levels. Too often we rely on apps or technology to make our surveys easier for us on the front and back end and there is no doubt this trend will continue – however – its important to take a step back and look at the research itself to determine what is the best way to measure results – not the easiest or cheapest way. Back to the study. Overall, the scientists found that higher education levels, increased access to grocery stores, and reduced access to fast food had associations with:

  • A higher intake of fruits and vegetables
  • A lower intake of soda and fast food
  • A lower prevalence of obesity and overweight

They also reported that higher income levels among Hispanic populations led to a higher intake of fruits and vegetables. The associations were weaker among white populations. Reinforcing the fact that we need to identify cultural eating patterns to correctly report food consumption data. Is there anything new and different in this study. I think not. For me the “wow” is the bias created by using mobile app technology.