USDA Grants $149,074 to Study Food Shopping Patterns with GPS

July 18, 2013 - 9:50 AM
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This Jan. 29, 2012 photo, shows signage promoting breakfast is at a Wendy's restaurant in Culver City, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a $149,074 grant to study food shopping patterns that may form the basis of future shopping "interventions.”

The USDA award went to the University of Kentucky in April for the study titled, “Adolescent and Parent Food Activity Patterns as Drivers of Food Choice and Behaviors."

According to the grant abstract, “There is limited research understanding how adolescents and their parents move within their daily lives which may influence their food choices and ultimately diet behavior."

The project will examine the influences on food shopping patterns, or as the proposal put it: "The overall goal of the proposed project is to examine the drivers of food shopping patterns, behaviors and food purchasing choices within the food activity space among adolescents and their parents.”

Some of the families involved in the study will be given GPS data recorders so researchers can conduct an "objective measure of the food environment."

The study's primary director Prof. Alison Gustafson tells CNSNews.com, “A lot of the work is on proximal deterrents -- things that are close to you that would bring you to a store. For example, shopping venues that are in a person’s travel pattern – in their daily route, they may pass certain types of food establishments.

“The GPS will help us map out a travel pattern, the geographic space and the number of food venues in this space. As well as the type -- grocery stores, gas stations or super centers,” Gustafson said.

The study also will examine the shopping habits of adolescents traveling with and without a parent.
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“Are shopping habits different for an adolescent when they are with a parent or with a friend? My hypothesis is that there will be a difference,” Gustafson said.

“Although neighborhood-level efforts are paramount for food system sustainability, at the micro-level, where residents procure food, interventions are also needed,” the grant says.

“Such that examining behaviors and perceptions of the locations where families purchase food for consumption can aid in developing trainings and key materials that will most directly influence purchasing behavior. Lastly, the ultimate goal of the project is to develop and submit an integrated grant that will lead to improved diet quality among families.”

Gustafson explains, “The intervention that we will likely write another grant for, is so you change their shopping habits.  We will be working with food stores, adolescents and parents on how to change their choice to healthier snacks and foods.”

“In an ideal world everyone would always have access to healthy food, but since that’s not possible, we may say to parents, ‘You can’t change where you live but you could change how you shop.’”

For example, a change in one's daily travel routine could produce changes in shopping behavior:  “Maybe if someone drove a half mile the other way, there is a grocery store with healthier options than the food venues they routinely pass by,” Gustafson says.

Part of the study will focus on designing a food shopping curriculum:  “We’ll be working with stores and families in a 10-week session," Gustafson said.