Citizen Science to Study Food Environments
- Results highlighted marked differences between objective results and residents’ views
- Supermarkets scored highest in objective healthy food availability, and yet residents preferred to buy in specialized stores
- Participants highlighted the existing food insecurity in their neighborhood, and difficulties in affording healthy foods
- Citizens’ diets – for better or worse – are deeply influenced by where we live
Residents from the neighborhood of Los Rosales (Madrid, Spain), public health practitioners, and researchers worked together in this citizen science project. We analyzed how the food environment influenced residents’ diets from a multi-level perspective in Madrid. The results have been published in Public Health Nutrition.
Researchers assessed the accessibility and availability of healthy foods in the neighborhood. Residents participated as co-researchers, analyzing their neighborhood food environment through photography and discussion groups.
We revealed similarities and differences between objective and residents’ results. Supermarkets scored highest in terms of healthy food availability. However, residents preferred to buy in small neighbourhood food stores, which carry fresh products but also help increase socializing . Encarna, one citizen scientist of the project, discussed these ‘neighborhood spaces [are] of great value, which improve our sense of belonging to the neighborhood. These encounters may also serve as a social protection net against loneliness’. Supermarkets were categorized as a negative influence. Residents stressed their wide offering of processed foods and their marketing strategies, which they claimed lead customers to buy more than needed.
They revealed also social influences that were less tangible to researchers, such as the existing food insecurity in the neighborhood (see Figure 2). Including citizens’ perspectives in urban health research is key to developing effective public health interventions.
The full paper, ‘The mismatch between observational measures and residents’ perspectives on the retail food environment: a mixed-methods approach in the Heart Healthy Hoods study’ Diez J., Valiente R., Ramos C., García R., Gittelsohn J., Carrero JL., Franco M. is freely available for two weeks.
This was an international collaboration among:
- Researchers from the Heart Healthy Hoods project (at the University of Alcalá): Julia Díez, Roberto Valiente, and Manuel Franco (Principal Investigator of the study).
- Public health practitioners of the Centro Madrid Salud Villaverde, from the Madrid Public Health Institute: Carmen Ramos and Reyes Martín
- A professor from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Joel Gittelsohn
- Twelve residents of Villaverde (Rosa, Beatriz, Juana, Sagrario, Encarnación, Encarna, Javier, Florián, Julio, Ángel, Armando and Pablo).