Association between activity space exposure to food establishments and individual risk of overweight

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e41418. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041418. Epub 2012 Aug 22.


Objective: Environmental exposure to food sources may underpin area level differences in individual risk for overweight. Place of residence is generally used to assess neighbourhood exposure. Yet, because people are mobile, multiple exposures should be accounted for to assess the relation between food environments and overweight. Unfortunately, mobility data is often missing from health surveys. We hereby test the feasibility of linking travel survey data with food listings to derive food store exposure predictors of overweight among health survey participants.

Methods: Food environment exposure measures accounting for non-residential activity places (activity spaces) were computed and modelled in Montreal and Quebec City, Canada, using travel surveys and food store listings. Models were then used to predict activity space food exposures for 5,578 participants of the Canadian Community Health Survey. These food exposure estimates, accounting for daily mobility, were used to model self-reported overweight in a multilevel framework. Median Odd Ratios were used to assess the proportion of between-neighborhood variance explained by such food exposure predictors.

Results: Estimates of food environment exposure accounting for both residential and non-residential destinations were significantly and more strongly associated with overweight than residential-only measures of exposure for men. For women, residential exposures were more strongly associated with overweight than non-residential exposures. In Montreal, adjusted models showed men in the highest quartile of exposure to food stores were at lesser risk of being overweight considering exposure to restaurants (OR = 0.36 [0.21-0.62]), fast food outlets (0.48 [0.30-0.79]), or corner stores (0.52 [0.35-0.78]). Conversely, men experiencing the highest proportion of restaurants being fast-food outlets were at higher risk of being overweight (2.07 [1.25-3.42]). Women experiencing higher residential exposures were at lower risk of overweight.

Conclusion: Using residential neighbourhood food exposure measures may underestimate true exposure and observed associations. Using mobility data offers potential for deriving activity space exposure estimates in epidemiological models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Female
  • Food Supply
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Quebec
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Restaurants