Washington: Your proximity to a grocery store can actually change the way you eat, according to a recent study.
Living close to a supermarket is something you may associate with an unhealthy lifestyle, but the research has turned this thinking on its head, finding those who live close to the store make healthier food choices.
The foods on the first list are more exclusive in social media feeds of people living in northeastern food deserts, a term used by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to describe communities with limited access to grocery stores. The second list is more exclusive to non-food deserts.
The Georgia Institute of Technology study identified the food choices and nutritional profiles of people living in both types of communities throughout America. It included three million geo-tagged posts on the social media platform where food is king: Instagram.
The researchers found that food posted (and eaten) by people in food deserts is 5 to 17 percent higher in fat, cholesterol and sugars compared to those shared in non-food deserts areas.
Munmun De Choudhury, who led the study, said that the USDA identifies food deserts based on the availability of fresh food. Instagram literally gave them a picture of what people are actually eating in these communities, allowing them to study them in a new way.
“Fruits and vegetables are the biggest difference,” De Choudhury said. “Forty-eight percent of posts from people in non-food deserts mention them. It’s only 33 percent in food deserts.”
Another observation made by the researchers was, irrespective of food availability, people in the US tend to eat the food their region is most known for – steak and coffee in the west, smoked salmon and cheesecake in the east, and okra and biscuits in the south.
The study has been presented at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW).