27 July 2016

How does your day-to-day area influence what you eat?

Unhealthy temptations at hand

What effect does your everyday environment have on what you eat? How and by how much? Dr. Maartje Poelman from Utrecht University is investigating how an abundant availability of food in our immediate environment has influence on our eating habits, and how we can improve this. She is a recipient of a NWO Veni grant, which will allow her to undertake three years of research in the context of Utrecht’s Healthy Urban Living and Future Food Utrecht research themes.

Unhealthy tempters

Most of us are aware that fruit and vegetables are healthier than candy and snacks. Yet attractive advertising, smells and images see us choose the less healthy options. Why is that? How does our everyday environment affect the choices we make and how can we effect change to lead healthier lives? Health Scientist Dr. Maartje Poelman received a NWO grant to research this.

Readily available food options

“Obesity is a major societal problem, a problem that is increasingly associated with the availability of convenience food”, says Poelman. “A few decades ago there was a scarcity of options, but that has given way to an abundance of cheap and unhealthy food. For research purposes I ask three questions to gain an understanding of how food options nearby influence food consumption: What role do offers and specials play? What impact does increased flexibility and mobility have on work and recreation? And what role does food literacy play when it comes to choosing healthy eating options?”

We snack more on the run

With help from GPS, stress sensors and an app that keeps track of eating, among other things, Poelman wants to map where and when people eat. “Until now, it was really only the food on offer in the peoples’ immediate living environment that was looked at” she says. “It has never been examined beyond this before. We work, exercise, study and relax in different locations. If we want to investigate what effect our everyday environments have on our eating habits, then we have to look at these places too.”   

Stress

A busy environment can cause more stress than a serene and peaceful place, and under the influence of stress people tend towards unhealthy diets. Poelman: “The impact of the characteristics in this kind of environment have never been included in previous research on the interaction between food environments and our eating habits. I plan to change to this via my Veni research project.”