Background: Socio-ecological models of behaviour suggest that dietary behaviours are potentially shaped by exposure to the food environment ('foodscape'). Research on associations between the foodscape and diet and health has largely focussed on foodscapes around the home, despite recognition that non-home environments are likely to be important in a more complete assessment of foodscape exposure. This paper characterises and describes foodscape exposure of different types, at home, at work, and along commuting routes for a sample of working adults in Cambridgeshire, UK.
Methods: Home and work locations, and transport habits for 2,696 adults aged 29-60 were drawn from the Fenland Study, UK. Food outlet locations were obtained from local councils and classified by type - we focus on convenience stores, restaurants, supermarkets and takeaway food outlets. Density of and proximity to food outlets was characterised at home and work. Commuting routes were modelled based on the shortest street network distance between home and work, with exposure (counts of food outlets) that accounted for travel mode and frequency. We describe these three domains of food environment exposure using descriptive and inferential statistics.
Results: For all types of food outlet, we found very different foodscapes around homes and workplaces (with overall outlet exposure at work 125% higher), as well as a potentially substantial exposure contribution from commuting routes. On average, work and commuting environments each contributed to foodscape exposure at least equally to residential neighbourhoods, which only accounted for roughly 30% of total exposure. Furthermore, for participants with highest overall exposure to takeaway food outlets, workplaces accounted for most of the exposure. Levels of relative exposure between home, work and commuting environments were poorly correlated.
Conclusions: Relying solely on residential neighbourhood characterisation greatly underestimated total foodscape exposure in this sample, with levels of home exposure unrelated to levels of away from home exposure. Such mis-estimation is likely to be expressed in analyses as attenuated parameter estimates, suggesting a minimal 'environmental' contribution to outcomes of interest. Future work should aim to assess exposure more completely through characterising environments beyond the residential neighbourhood, where behaviours related to food consumption are likely to occur.