Poor food choices, such as overconsumption of carbonated soft drinks, are an important factor driving the global obesity epidemic and have been linked directly to diabetes and heart disease. While public health agencies are working to help people to make healthier choices, monitoring the effectiveness of these efforts has been costly and difficult. But now, using the same digital data employed by marketers to promote food products, McGill University's David Buckeridge has developed a way for health agencies to track Montreal consumers' food choices, neighborhood by neighborhood. This novel approach could pave the way to better monitoring of consumers' behavior and more targeted efforts to encourage healthier diets.
"We've taken data which most grocery and convenience stores generate with digital scanners to identify items at checkout. Companies use these data and produce information for marketing and other purposes", says Buckeridge, a public health physician and associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health in the Faculty of Medicine. "We developed a way to use these data towards a positive public health initiative: routine monitoring of eating habits over time in particular pockets of a city to reveal which populations consume foods that can contribute to negative health outcomes."
Buckeridge, who is also a member of the McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE), and his team measured monthly neighborhood-level purchases of soft drinks using digital data captured by store scanners in Montreal, Canada, between 2008 and 2010, then compared those results with census data describing detailed neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics. With this method, Buckeridge can isolate and measure any food choice, such as processed foods, salt-laden food and food containing saturated fat.
"We are working with public health agencies to determine how the methods we have develope
|Contact: Cynthia Lee|