Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Analyzing Consumption and Dietary Health in the Context of Food Disadvantaged Communities

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 9:10 AM
Brickell North (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ketra Rice, Centers for Disease Control, Adam Eckerd, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and Anand Desai, The Ohio State University
The premise of this paper rests on the idea that spatial location has a significant influence on diet and health disparities and on the utilization of food assistance policies targeted towards minimizing those disparities. In the specific context of poor food environments, this research explores the relationships and interactions between people and spaces.  The conceptual approach links spatial conceptual perspectives from sociology and health geography to provide the theoretical framework for the relevance of integrating space in food policy analysis and diet and health disparities research. The methodological approach provides a more comprehensive examination of diet and health disparities by allowing for the simulated exploration of food policy interventions. 

While prior research has shown the independent statistical relationships and associations between poor food environments and an individual’s diet and health outcomes, there has been little examination of the interactions and interdependencies across space and time that contribute to the creation of such environments, and there has been even less examination of the effects of varying policies aimed at improving diet and health outcomes for individuals living in these food deprived areas.  From a policy perspective, the presence and persistence of poor food environments and the subsequent diet and health effects on those living in such areas is complex and requires modeling techniques that can capture this complexity. This paper uses a simulation model to explore this complexity.  Simulation modeling allows for the analysis of interdependent processes and exploration of policy interventions which can lead to an enhanced understanding of the causes and consequences of poor food environments and the effects of implementing different food policy alternatives.

This paper used a simulation model to explore three policy options in food deprived communities: (1) SNAP benefits, (2) Junk Food Taxes, and (3) Subsidy Policy to Open New Stores in food deprived communities. The results of the model revealed that the introduction of people-based policies that offer either incentives or disincentives for the purchase of healthy foods (SNAP and the Junk Food Tax) did not significantly alter consumption patterns for residents.  The lack of access and availability of healthful food retail in those communities remained a barrier and continued to have an adverse effect on diet and health outcomes.  The place-based policy of opening healthful food retail significantly altered consumer behaviors and positively improved diet and health status. Thus, the model suggests that policies that influence the spatial location of food stores should be taken in context when designing policies aimed at improving dietary health. 

The simulation model allowed us to build an artificial food environment and explicitly study scenarios under different policy interventions. The context of space, diet and health was reflected in the model results and through the introduction of policy interventions, the model showed how the food environment, in fact, can matter.  This exploratory endeavor was intended to bring an understanding of what set of consequences may arise from different food policy alternatives when a natural experiment is either impractical or impossible to conduct.