Social, Economic and Neighbourhood Determinants of Diet (2011-2017)

TakeawaysThis research programme aimed to identify and measure social and economic factors that influence food choice, and looked at the ways that food choices and diet quality can vary across physical space and among different groups in society.

Programme lead: Dr Pablo Monsivais

Group members included

Programme studies

Programme publications

Other key programme resources


Scientific Summary

This research programme aims to identify and measure social and economic determinants of food choice and the mechanisms that give rise to social and spatial patterning of diet quality. Much of the programme is based on new analyses of data from two ongoing cohort studies conducted at the University of Cambridge. The Fenland Study cohort of over 10,000 adults and the EPIC Norfolk cohort of over 25,000 adults.

Socio-economic determinants of dietary behaviour
Data from the prospective EPIC-Norfolk cohort presents a unique opportunity to move beyond studying correlates to identify social and economic mechanisms influencing food choice and diet quality. In EPIC, we are examining longitudinal changes in social economic factors in relation to dietary behaviours and diet quality. We are also investigating the impact of financial hardship, unemployment and retirement on diet quality and body weight. In the Fenland cohort, we are examining the economics of healthy diets and exploring how food costs relate to socioeconomic status and diet quality.

Neighbourhood food environments, dietary behaviour and health
The programme is examining the relative influence of different food environments on diet quality and health using data from two ongoing cohort studies. The Fenland cohort provides information on where people live and work as well as their travel mode when commuting. Combining these data with food outlet data from local authorities, we are measuring the exposure to different aspects of the built environment, including supermarkets, takeaway restaurants and other food outlets around the home, workplace and along travel routes. These exposures can then be related to individuals’ food intakes, diet quality and body weight. The Fenland cohort also provides detailed socioeconomic data, ownership of automobiles and other factors that may modify the association between environments and behaviour. The longitudinal EPIC cohort allows us to examine how changes in the built environment over time relate to changes in diet and body weight.

European Initiatives
With colleagues in DEDIPAC, a European collaborative research network, we are developing new data and harmonising existing datasets to conduct international research on the economic, environmental and policy-level determinants of diet and health. Using these new data, we will study the influence of food prices, living costs and incomes across European countries and the effectiveness of taxes to promote healthy eating using dietary surveillance data and research cohorts in each country. Initial emphasis will be on linking dietary data to concurrent determinants and measuring associations cross-sectionally and, when possible, prospectively. Subsequent analyses will apply food purchasing models to estimate the potential of changing food prices and incomes to influence dietary intakes in the population.

Policy evaluation and impact analysis
We will continue to explore the feasibility and impact of nutrition guidance and policy with a greater range of approaches and in more diverse settings. We will complete a systematic review of the effectiveness of regulatory approaches to improve diet.

Working with Dr Sara Benjamin Neelon, this programme is characterising the nutrition practices and policies in child care settings across the UK, beginning with a survey of over 800 nurseries conducted in 2012. The quantitative and qualitative data derived from these surveys will provide pilot data for a grant to do a more comprehensive, in person survey of childcare.

In collaboration with MRC Human Nutrition Research and Prof Marc Suhrcke, we are conducting a pilot study to explore the use of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) dataset for economic nutrition modelling