On the interplay between educational attainment and nutrition: a spatially-aware perspective


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Food choices are an integral part of wellbeing and longevity, yet poor nutrition is responsible for millions of deaths every year. Among the complex mosaic of determinants of food choices are demographic, socioeconomic, physiological, and also cultural. In this work, we explore the connection between educational attainment, as a proxy for cultural capital, and food purchases, as a proxy for food consumption. Unlike existing studies, which use diaries and surveys, we use a large-scale dataset of food-related products purchased from a major retailer in London over the course of one year. By using this high-resolution dataset, we are able to explore the spatial dependence of the various factors impacting food choices, and estimate their direct and indirect spatial effects. We characterize food consumption across two complementary dimensions of (1) diet composition, and (2) diet variety. By building spatial auto-regressive models on these variables, we obtain an improved fit compared to traditional regression, and illustrate the importance of spillover effects. Our results consistently confirm the association between a higher educational attainment and a healthier diet, even when controlling for spatial correlation. First, a low educational level is connected to diets high in carbohydrates and low in fibers. Second, it is also associated with higher consumption of sweets and red meats, while high educational level is linked to a greater consumption of fruits, vegetables, and fish. Third, highly-educated areas show an increased nutritional diversity, together with a lower caloric intake. Finally, we show the presence of spillover effects within the neighboring communities, which would need to be taken in consideration when designing public health policies and interventions.
Food choices, Cultural capital, Educational attainment, Spatial analysis
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