Last week, the newest staff member to join the GFS team, Dr Di Zeng, presented his research on ‘Food Desert and Weight Outcome: Disentangling Confounding Mechanisms’. Di has recently moved to Adelaide from the U.S. and the seminar was a great insight into his work.
Here is what we learnt…
In his talk, Di highlighted that while food deserts (defined here and here) are increasingly considered a potential cause of overweight and obesity, the existing literature is largely inconclusive. This lack of a clear answer to the age-old question of what causes overweight and obesity, is partly due to the impossibility of sorting out multiple confounding mechanisms from a purely empirical perspective.
Using a rational-choice model, Di’s research investigated the hypothesised causality, where the individual chooses how often to visit a distant supermarket and/or a nearby convenience store, and weight outcome depends on this choice.
Surprisingly, the results suggest that neither limited supermarket access nor low income, the two widely blamed features of food deserts, determine weight outcomes. In fact, weight outcome was found to be more affected by individual food preferences as well as time and monetary costs associated with grocery shopping.
While these findings would suggest that food deserts alone are not to blame for growing waist-lines, further work is needed to untangle the complex web of factors influencing food choices and resulting weight outcomes.
The seminar, which was presented as part of the GFS seminar series, stimulated much discussion and talk of future direction. Of particular interest was how to extend and adapt this work to better understand drivers of food choices and weight outcomes in the Australian context, where almost two in three adults are overweight or obese.
In an upcoming blog post we will learn more about Di’s background, current role at GFS, as well as his research interests and aspirations!