People living in food deserts - communities that have limited access to grocery stores - eat food with higher fat, cholesterol and sugar content, according to a new study led by an Indian-origin scientist.
The study from the Georgia Institute of Technology in US has identified the food choices and nutritional profiles of people living different communities in US. It included three million geo-tagged posts on the social media platform Instagram.
The researchers found that food posted (and eaten) by people in food deserts is 5 to 17 per cent higher in fat, cholesterol and sugars compared to those shared in non-food deserts areas.
“The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) identifies food deserts based on the availability of fresh food,” said Munmun De Choudhury, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing, led the study.
“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 De Choudhury.
“Fruits and vegetables are the biggest difference. Forty-eight per cent of posts from people in non-food deserts mention them. It’s only 33 per cent in food deserts,” she said.
The research team used the USDA’s database of nutritional values for nearly 9,000 foods to create a nutritional profile for both groups.
The amount of calories did not differ significantly, but the levels of fats, cholesterol and sugars were much higher in food deserts.
Pictures of meals that are most likely to be posted on Instagram by both groups tend to be the staples of each region, researchers said.