Objective: In this study, an instrument was created to measure the healthy and unhealthy characteristics of food environments and investigate associations between the whole of the food environment and fast food consumption.
Design and subjects: In consultation with other academic researchers in this field, food stores were categorised to either healthy or unhealthy and weighted (between +10 and -10) by their likely contribution to healthy/unhealthy eating practices. A healthy and unhealthy food environment score (FES) was created using these weightings. Using a cross-sectional study design, multilevel multinomial regression was used to estimate the effects of the whole food environment on the fast food purchasing habits of 2547 individuals.
Results: Respondents in areas with the highest tertile of the healthy FES had a lower likelihood of purchasing fast food both infrequently and frequently compared with respondents who never purchased, however only infrequent purchasing remained significant when simultaneously modelled with the unhealthy FES (odds ratio (OR) 0.52; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.32-0.83). Although a lower likelihood of frequent fast food purchasing was also associated with living in the highest tertile of the unhealthy FES, no association remained once the healthy FES was included in the models. In our binary models, respondents living in areas with a higher unhealthy FES than healthy FES were more likely to purchase fast food infrequently (OR 1.35; 95% CI 1.00-1.82) however no association was found for frequent purchasing.
Conclusion: Our study provides some evidence to suggest that healthier food environments may discourage fast food purchasing.