Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6079-9094

Year of Publication

2021

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Agriculture, Food and Environment

Department/School/Program

Agricultural Economics

First Advisor

Dr. Yuqing Zheng

Abstract

A healthy food environment is fundamental to good health. It contributes to the reduction of obesity and the development of healthy eating habits. In spite of this, many people in the United States (US) have been hypnotized to become obese due to the current food environment. Recently, the US has consistently ranked high in the world in terms of obesity. The rising rate is symptomatic of consuming unhealthy diets. Besides, the double-edged crisis of the US food environment and obesity poses a major threat to food security and public health. Therefore, studying the US food environment is important to sustain quality food products and healthier food habits. In order to accomplish this, appropriate analysis and estimation techniques need to be employed to formulate the overall picture of the food environment. This dissertation has applied advanced analytical tools to shed light on key factors that affect household eating habits.

This dissertation has two major essays. In essay one (‎Chapter 2), a Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) technique is used to examine the linear causal relationships among latent and observed variables while simultaneously accounting for measurement errors that cause endogeneity problems. In this analysis, 3,861 US households were studied to investigate the healthy food environment from their community and consumer perspectives. Healthy eating and healthy food environment indexes are used among food-secure and food-insecure households to certify the quality of their food environments.

In essay two (‎Chapter 3), a Three-Stages Least Squares (3SLS) approach is employed to determine the likelihood of improving dietary intake by examining how the density of healthy food resources impacts the purchases. The number of healthy food sources (i.e., retail stores, specialized food stores, direct marketing, and farmers’ markets) is used to quantify the amount consumed of healthful food through the distance traveled and the price. The estimation is conducted on 4,126 households in rural and urban communities. The analysis is rooted in the hypothesis that the density of healthy food stores will affect healthy food consumption through price and travel distance reduction effects.

The findings of this dissertation are: (i) sorting households according to their food security status enables us to identify key factors that influence their eating habits; (ii) the cost of healthy food remains a burden and can be seen as a quality-related product differentiation. Price changes might not be enough to make people eat a healthier diet; (iii) quality food items, a variety of food choices, and food store types are essential elements of the external food environment to improve the eating habits; (iv) a significant lack of healthy food knowledge and awareness. The problem is increased as the food insecurity situation is increased; (v) participants in SNAP had a low healthy eating score compared to non-participants; (vi) healthy food sources improve consumers’ perception of food availability and accessibility. Briefly, supermarkets and supercenters increase consumers’ food purchases compared to small grocery stores; (vii) the increase in food quantity in urban areas can be attributed to stores specializing in healthy foods. The same can be said for rural areas with direct marketing and farmers’ markets; (viii) the incentive to choose healthier foods is indirectly affected by lower travel distances and an extensive price decrease.

Findings from this dissertation shed light on community food environments and consumer food environments. Results provide insight into what affects food security inside and outside the homes of consumers. Further, the results highlight the impact of the availability of healthy food on both urban and rural areas. This study has important implications for improving health, sustaining nutritional diets, and enhancing regional welfare in the future.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2021.351

Available for download on Sunday, August 13, 2023

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