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Living Closer To Grocery Store May Change The Way You Eat

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The proximity of your home to a grocery store may change the way you eat, a new study suggests. It's not just because you'll eat more, but because living near the supermarket may prompt you to make healthier food choices.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have turned around the notion that living close to the grocery is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, and found that those who live close to the store eat healthier.

The research team divided food into two categories: the first list is exclusive to the Instagram feed of those living in Northeastern "food deserts."

This is a term used by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to describe communities that have limited access to supermarkets. The agency identifies food deserts based on the availability of fresh produce.

The second list is exclusive to non-food deserts.

But why examine Instagram posts? "Instagram literally gives us a picture of what people are actually eating in these communities, allowing us to study them in a new way," said Munmun De Choudhury, lead author of the study.

De Choudhury and his colleagues identified the food choices and nutritional profiles of people living in food deserts and non-food deserts throughout America. They decided to study 3 million geo-tagged posts on Instagram, and based the nutritional profile for 9,000 different foodstuff on USDA's database of nutritional values.

The team discovered that the food displayed and eaten by people in food deserts in the West and Southwest is 5 to 17 percent higher in cholesterol, fat and sugars than the Instagram posts by those who live in non-food desert areas.

However, the biggest difference between two food communities is among fruits and vegetables.

"Forty-eight percent of posts from people in non-food deserts mention them," said De Choudhury. "It's only 33 percent in food deserts."

Additionally, the researchers observed that regardless of food availability, people in the U.S. tend to eat the food that their area is most famous for. This included steak and coffee in the West, cheesecake and smoked salmon in the East, and biscuits and okra in the South.

"It doesn't matter where you live," added De Choudhury. "Everyone seems to eat what their region is known for."

The study was presented at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW).

Photo : Eddie Welker | Flickr

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