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Comparison of geographic information system and subjective assessments of momentary food environments as predictors of food intake: an ecological momentary assessment study

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posted on 2023-05-20, 16:32 authored by Elliston, KG, Schuz, B, Timothy AlbionTimothy Albion, Stuart FergusonStuart Ferguson
Background: It has been observed that eating is influenced by the presence and availability of food. Being aware of the presence of food in the environment may enable mobile health (mHealth) apps to use geofencing techniques to determine the most appropriate time to proactively deliver interventions. To date, however, studies on eating typically rely on self-reports of environmental contexts, which may not be accurate or feasible for issuing mHealth interventions.

Objective: This study aimed to compare the subjective and geographic information system (GIS) assessments of the momentary food environment to explore the feasibility of using GIS data to predict eating behavior and inform geofenced interventions.

Methods: In total, 72 participants recorded their food intake in real-time for 14 days using an ecological momentary assessment approach. Participants logged their food intake and responded to approximately 5 randomly timed assessments each day. During each assessment, the participants reported the number and type of food outlets nearby. Their electronic diaries simultaneously recorded their GPS coordinates. The GPS data were later overlaid with a GIS map of food outlets to produce an objective count of the number of food outlets within 50 m of the participant.

Results: Correlations between self-reported and GIS counts of food outlets within 50 m were only of a small size (r=0.17; P<.001). Logistic regression analyses revealed that the GIS count significantly predicted eating similar to the self-reported counts (area under the curve for the receiver operating characteristic curve [AUC-ROC] self-report=0.53, SE 0.00 versus AUC-ROC 50 m GIS=0.53, SE 0.00; P=.41). However, there was a significant difference between the GIS-derived and self-reported counts of food outlets and the self-reported type of food outlets (AUC-ROC self-reported outlet type=0.56, SE 0.01; P<.001).

Conclusions: The subjective food environment appears to predict eating better than objectively measured food environments via GIS. mHealth apps may need to consider the type of food outlets rather than the raw number of outlets in an individual's environment.


Publication title

JMIR mHealth and uHealth





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School of Psychological Sciences


J M I R Publications, Inc.

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Rights statement

Copyright 2020 Katherine G. Elliston, Benjamin Schuz, Tim Albion, Stuart G. Ferguson. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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