Faculty of Social Science

Study uses GPS to determine how exposure to junk food outlets influences youth

June 28, 2016

Jason Gilliand, professor in the Department of Geography and Director of the Human Environments Analysis Laboratory (HEAL) researches the connection between children's nutrition and their local neighbourhoods.

In one study, Gilliand and his team used GPS technology to determine when children passed near a junk food outlet, and whether they made a buy, or had food purchased for them.

Among the findings, the study showed that trips made by car were much more likely to result in a junk food purchased than those made by an active mode of travel. 

From the London Free Press: "Of all trips where a child was exposed to a junk food outlet, one in 20 made a purchase. The length of time that a child was exposed also increased their chances of making a purchase, from 1.7% at less than one minute of exposure to 16% at 16 to 17 minutes of exposure. The study also found that trips made by females were more likely to result in a junk food purchase at all levels of exposure than those made by males. Females were 2.5 times more likely than males to make a junk food purchase after five minutes of exposure and three times more likely after 15 minutes."

“These results show that trips by car, under adult supervision, are more likely to result in a junk food purchase,” said Gilliland. “This suggests the powerful influence that parents can have on their children's eating habits and the need to be mindful of this. It also suggests that an active mode of travel may be healthier, not only for physical activity, but also for nutrition.”

The study was also featured on CTV London: