Lecture 11: The urban foods cape, eating and physical activity in the city
Part 1: FOOD
French, SA, M Story, and RW Jeffery. 2001. “Environmental Influences on Eating and physical
activity,” Annu. Rev. Public Health 22:309–35
The reading discusses both food and inactivity issues
Pothukuchi and Kaufman. 1999. Placing the food system on the urban agenda: The role of
municipal institutions in food systems planning. Agriculture and Human Values 16(2) 213-
The current epidemic of obesity is caused largely by an environment that promotes
excessive food intake and discourages physical activity (we’ll focus on food today).
o Trends (food supply, eating out, etc).
o Causes and Effects (ads, promotion, pricing)
o Public Health Interventions
While this article is U.S. based, many of the trends are comparable in Canada.
I will supplement our discussion with Canadian data when possible.
What does urban sociology have to do with food, eating, inactivity, and obesity?
o Eating and lower physical activity affect weight
In 2004, approximately 6.8 million Canadian adults ages 20 to 64 were overweight, and
an additional 4.5 million were obese
These trends have a lot to do with where and how we live
Some of the causes stem from our urban lifestyle, but urban settings also offer many
benefits for reducing obesity
Between 1970-1972 and 1998, the proportion of Canadian adults considered overweight
or obese increased from 40.0% to 50.7%. Results from a series of seven surveys
conducted between 1970 and 1998, showing an increase in the share of Canadian men
and women considered overweight and obese
Core Food Challenges for City Dwellers
Supply of and desire for Plentiful Fresh food
Making Sense of the Mixed Advertising Messages in the Foodscape
Out of home eating options that are healthy and convenient Time and preparation space at home
Social opportunities for healthy eating
Awareness and appreciation of agriculture
Food Supply Trends
Change in food environment over the past generation
o Greater food supply (energy, fat, fruits, vegetables)
Overall energy increased 15%
Available Fruit and veg 19%, consumed 24% more
o Countervailing trends in milk/dairy and soft drink consumption
Milk decline form 31 gallons to 24
Cheese form 11 lbs to 28
Pizza increased 25%
Increase soft drink
o Eating out has also increased, as have number of options, their convenience, and
increase portion of total energy intake
Urban vs. non-urban differences
Level of convenience and number of options is higher in urbanized areas
Supply of fresh food options is higher further away from city centres
o Fruit and veg consumption of urban dwellers is more likely to be canned,
Lure of convenience foods may be higher for urban dwellers because both spouses are
more likely to work.
Preparation spaces (kitchens) are smaller and more limited in urban apartments than in
However, lots of variation by city. Some cities are much more disadvantaged in their
availability of fresh food (e.g. Detroit vs. Toronto).
Advertising, Promotion, Education
“Foodscape” Marketing is pervasive in all sectors of society—on television, in schools,
on billboards, in supermarkets.
o Urban areas are especially advertisement rich, so urban populations may be
particularly susceptible targets of foodscape marketing
Urban dwellers have a greater number of brand choices
Marketing has been shown to push less healthy choices (which tend to have higher profit)
with splashier ads, often appealing to children.
Urban areas tend to be home to higher concentrations of poor populations Income is not associated with total quantity of food consumed, but is associated with
types of food consumed.
E.g. grocery store purchases in high-income areas are less energy dense than low-income
People are actually spending a lower % of income on food today (1998: 11%) than in
But the type of food has changed a lot
Yet people are sensitive to discount promotions, which are more often to occur on
unhealthy than healthy food choices.
Public Health Interventions
o E.g. subsidize community gardening programs.
Health Education (e.g. labeling, classes in school, public service announcements).
Reduce bad ads around places where kids are
o More of a challenge in dense urban areas
Regulate junk food in schools and in other places; quality school lunches.
Incentives for fresh produce, encourage green box programs
Fresh food pricing interventions, especially in poor areas.
Spotlight on Urban Agriculture
Agriculture no longer exclusively rural
o Up to 35% of agriculture produce originates within metro areas.
Arable land is decreasingly rapidly
o Small plots in marginal spaces
o Rooftop gardening
o Backyard gardening (popular in many of Toronto’s ethnic communities)
Benefits of Urban Agriculture
The experience of growing food is correlated with its consumption; the more experience
people have growing food, the more likely they are to eat it.
Urban gardening and farming involve city dwellers in healthy, active work and recreation.
Urban agriculture builds safe, healthy, and green environments in neighborhoods, schools,
and abandoned areas.
Placing the Food System on the Urban Agenda
o The food system is an essential part of modern life, yet it suffers from low
visibility and tends to be treated as a ‘rural’ issue, instead of a rightfully ‘urban’
one. Despite its low visibility, the urban food system contributes significantly to
community health and welfare and should therefore be given more sociological
The sociological and social problem identified: o The urban food system is less visible than such other systems as transportation,
housing, employment, or even the environment.
o Food issues are generally regarded as agricultural and rural issues, instead of
urban ones. This is a gross misrecognition.
o Planners have been heavily involved in efforts to improve the quality of air and
water through air and water pollution control programs. But the third leg of the
life essential stool, food, has been virtually ignored by planners. If planners are
truly concerned about improving human settlements, they need to incorporate
food issues into their working models.
Three reasons for the low visibility of the food system:
1. The historic process by which issues and policies came to be defined as urban;
2. The spread of processing, refrigeration, and transportation technology with
cheap, abundant energy that rendered invisible the loss of farmland around
older cities; and
3. The continuing institutional separation of urban and rural policy.
Why should we pay more attention to food system issues? (11 reasons)
1. The food sector (establishments like restaurants, fast food places,
supermarkets, specialty food stores, taverns, and food wholesaling) is an
important part of the economy
2. Many city residents are employed in the food sector
3. City households will spend from 10 to 40 percent of their income after taxes
on food purchases
4. Significant loss of agricultural land in the US and its preservation now
therefore becoming a priority regional issue
5. Food waste is a significant portion of the household, commercial and
institutional waste basket