How do we create healthier food environments?
Despite the recognized importance of healthy ‘foodscapes’ (which type of food outlet is located where), the food environment is becoming increasingly unhealthy. Changes are difficult to achieve and there is a knowledge gap on the effects of interventions. In this project, the research team will develop physical copies of neighborhoods in 3D. This allows them to design different scenarios of food supply, monitor the effects on the behaviour of different social groups and develop targeted interventions.
The effects of lifestyle interventions on our health are limited. That’s why experts are increasingly looking for ways to stimulate a healthier food environment, including the type of food offered in supermarkets, restaurants and cafes in an area. This is difficult to achieve and requires, for example, changing regulations, enticing food suppliers to offer affordable healthier food, and encouraging project developers to enter into contracts with healthier food outlets.
3D food supply scenarios
To gain more insight in how the food environment influences healthy food choices, a team of researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology, Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University and University Medical Center Utrecht will develop 3D copies (digital twins) of neighborhoods. This way, they can design different scenarios of food supply and predict how they influence the food outlets that people visit. They hereby combine the knowledge of the four institutes: digital twinning (UU and Tu/e), Agent-Based Modeling (UU, UMCU, Tu/e), foodscapes (WUR, UMCU), health (WUR, UU, UMCU) and urban planning (UU, TU/e).
Effects on different social groups
Since the effect of foodscapes can differ between people in different stages of life and with different socio-economic positions, the researchers want to analyze the effects for groups separately. This is relevant considering the existing inequalities in the food environment across different social contexts and the intrinsic socialness of eating behavior. Insight can be gained into which interventions would help the groups with the greatest health risks.
Combining technologies and interviews
Although there is already a lot of experience with representing different design choices in digital twins, much less knowledge is available about how these influence the behavior and hence health outcomes of different groups of residents. The project team will build up that expertise by combining digital twins with Agent-Based Modeling (ABM), VR techniques and interviews with residents and professionals (e.g. project developers, policy advisors, health professionals).
They will also dive deeper into the effect of the precise location of food suppliers. When is regulation most effective? How should the supply of food outlets change? And in what locations can developers best contract food outlets? These developments would ultimately in 5 to 10 years’ time contribute to a healthier food environment for residents, and especially those with a larger risk of health problems: they eat healthier, become healthier, feel healthier and health inequalities decrease.
|Seed funding project
In 2022 the Future Foodscapes project team received seed funding from the Institute for Preventive Health. This will be used for optimal preparation of the project in 2023. In doing so, the team will share its findings, amongst others through i4PH’s communication channels