Neighbourhood food environments and obesity in southeast Louisiana

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Supermarkets might influence food choices, and more distal outcomes like obesity, by increasing the availability of healthy foods. However, recent evidence about their effects is ambiguous, perhaps because supermarkets also increase the availability of unhealthy options. We develop an alternative measure of food environment quality that characterizes urban neighborhoods by the relative amounts of healthy (e.g. fruits and vegetables) to unhealthy foods (e.g. energy-dense snacks). Using data from 307 food stores and 1243 telephone interviews with residents in urban southeastern Louisiana, we estimate a multilevel multinomial logistic model for overweight status. We find that higher quality food environments – but not food store types – decrease the risk of obesity (RR 0.474, 95% CI 0.269–0.835) and overweight (RR 0.532, 95% CI 0.312–0.907). The findings suggest a need to move beyond a sole consideration of food store types to a more nuanced view of the food environment when planning for change.

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