Comparing individual and household food environments: what household food opportunities are missed when measuring access to food retail at the individual level?

Authors: Lindsey Smith*, University of Toronto, Michael Widener, University of Toronto, Bochu Liu, University of Toronto, Steven Farber, University of Toronto, Kristian Larsen, University of Toronto, Leia Minaker, University of Waterloo, Zachery Patterson, Concordia University, Jason Gilliland, The University of Western Ontario
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Spatial Analysis & Modeling, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: food access, food environment, measurement, activity space, GPS
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Geographers and public health researchers have long been interested in social, spatial, and economic factors that drive access and exposure to food retail. However, a large portion of the literature has relied on measures that do not reflect individuals’ spatial and temporal dimensions of access. A growing body of evidence therefore draws on mobility data to capture locations accessed by individuals beyond the home address. Given food-related activities have been shown to be shared by household members, and often gendered, taking an individual-level approach may limit researchers’ ability to accurately describe access to food retail.

Using data that includes GPS trajectories of 46 adults from 21 households in Toronto, this study compares access to food retailers at the individual and household level, and evaluates measurement issues that arise when relying upon one household member. Spatial and spatiotemporal measures of access were derived based on individual and total household activity spaces. Differences in access were tested for men and women and moderating effects of neighbourhood, shopping responsibility, and employment status investigated.

No clear differences between men and women were shown when comparing means across the whole analytical sample, however access varied by gender within households. Supermarket density was greater for women than men in the same household and total household measures. Additionally, counts of supermarkets in activity spaces were moderated by neighbourhood.

Ultimately, this work shows that future research should consider the role of place, gender, and the contributions of household members when measuring access to food at the individual level.

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