The Food System, Health and Economic Development

We often think of health as partly mediated by the balance in energy expenditure (through physical activity) and energy intake (through food consumption). Like many other elements of the built environment, opportunities for healthy and unhealthy eating constitute ‘food environments’ which can facilitate or hinder healthy lifestyles.

‘Food deserts’, or areas where it is difficult to access nutritious foods, pose many intractable problems for urban and rural areas in our region. What drives the movement of food retailers away from urban areas and small towns? How can we increase access to nutritious foods in these neighbourhoods? What viable strategies exist for encouraging healthier consumption? These are but a few of the many questions we tackle in our research on food systems.

Because the private sector influences the food environment more than other aspects of the built environment, the policy responses vary considerably and must balance market interests with the limits of government intervention. As a lab, we continue to work with local health units and food policy councils in Michigan and Ontario to strategize optimal policies for healthy eating.

Relevant References

  • van der Werf, P., Seabrook, J., Gilliland, J. (2019). Food for Naught: Using the Theory of Planned Behaviour to Better Understand Household Food Wasting Behaviour. Canadian Geographer. doi: 10.1111/cag.12519
  • DuBreck, C. M., Sadler, R. C., Arku, G., Seabrook, J., & Gilliland, J. (2019). A comparative analysis of the restaurant consumer food environment in rochester (NY, USA) and london (ON, canada): Assessing children’s menus by neighbourhood socio-economic characteristics.Public Health Nutrition, , 1-13. doi: 10.1017/S1368980018003804
  • Colley, P., Meyer, B., Seabrook, J., & Gilliland, J., (2018). The Impact of Canadian School Nutrition Programs on Children’s Nutritional Knowledge, Dietary Behaviors, and Food Intake: A Systematic Review. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Research and Practice. doi:10.3148/cjdpr-2018-037
  • DuBreck, C. M., Sadler, R. C., Arku, G., & Gilliland, J. A. (2018). Examining community and consumer food environments for children: An urban-suburban-rural comparison in southwestern ontario. Social Science & Medicine, 209, 33-42. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.05.004
  • Rinaldi, S., Gilliland, J., O’Connor, C., Chesworth, B., & Madill, J. (2018). Is Phase Angle an Appropriate Indicator of Malnutrition in Different Disease States? A Systematic Review. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN. doi:10.1016/j.clnesp.2018.10.010
  • van der Werf, P., Seabrook, J., & Gilliland, J. (2018) The quantity of food waste in the garbage stream of southern Ontario, Canada households. PLOS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0198470
  • van der Werf, P., & Gilliland, J. (2017). A systematic review of food losses and food waste generation in developed countries. Waste and Resource Management. 170(2):66-77. doi:10.1680/jwarm.16.00026
  • Sadler, R. C., Clark, A. F., Wilk, P., Oconnor, C., & Gilliland, J. A. (2016). Using GPS and activity tracking to reveal the influence of adolescents’ food environment exposure on junk food purchasing. Can J Public Health,107, 14. doi:10.17269/cjph.107.5346
  • Sadler, R. C., Gilliland, J. A., & Arku, G. (2016). Theoretical issues in the ‘food desert’ debate and ways forward. GeoJournal,81(3), 443-455. doi:10.1007/s10708-015-9634-6
  • Gilliland, J., Sadler, R., Clark, A., O’Connor, C., Milczarek, M., & Doherty, S. (2015). Using a Smartphone Application to Promote Healthy Dietary Behaviours and Local Food Consumption. BioMed Research International,2015, 1-11. doi:10.1155/2015/841368
  • Sadler, R. C., & Gilliland, J. A. (2015). Comparing children’s GPS tracks with geospatial proxies for exposure to junk food. Spatial and Spatio-temporal Epidemiology,14-15, 55-61. doi:10.1016/j.sste.2015.09.001
  • Sadler, R. C., Arku, G., & Gilliland, J. A. (2014). Local food networks as catalysts for food policy change to improve health and build the economy. Local Environment,20(9), 1103-1121. doi:10.1080/13549839.2014.894965
  • Sadler, R. C., Gilliland, J. A., & Arku, G. (2014). Stakeholder and Policy Maker Perception of Key Issues in Food Systems Planning and Policy Making. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition,9(1), 1-15. doi:10.1080/19320248.2013.845867
  • Sadler, R. C., Gilliland, J. A., & Arku, G. (2013). Community Development and the Influence of New Food Retail Sources on the Price and Availability of Nutritious Food. Journal of Urban Affairs,35(4), 471-491. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9906.2012.00624.x
  • Glen, K. E., Thomas, H. M., Loebach, J. E., Gilliland, J. A., & Gobert, C. P. (2013). Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Children: In a Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Neighbourhood. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research,74(3), 114-118. doi: 10.3148/74.3.2013.114
  • Sadler, R., Gilliland, J., & Arku, G. (2013). A food retail-based intervention on food security and consumption. International journal of environmental research and public health10(8), 3325-3346. doi: 10.3390/ijerph10083325
  • Sadler, R. C., Clark, M. A., & Gilliland, J. A. (2013). An economic impact comparative analysis of farmers’ markets in Michigan and Ontario. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development3(3), 61-81. doi: 10.5304/jafscd.2013.033.009
  • He, M., Tucker, P., Gilliland, J., Irwin, J. D., Larsen, K., & Hess, P. (2012). The Influence of Local Food Environments on Adolescents’ Food Purchasing Behaviors. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,9(4), 1458-1471. doi: 10.3390/ijerph9041458
  • He, M., Tucker, P., Irwin, J. D., Gilliland, J., Larsen, K., & Hess, P. (2012). Obesogenic neighbourhoods: The impact of neighbourhood restaurants and convenience stores on adolescents’ food consumption behaviours. Public Health Nutrition,15(12), 2331-2339. doi: 10.1017/s1368980012000584
  • Sadler, R.C., Gilliland, J.A., and Arku, G., (2011). An application of the edge effect in measuring accessibility to multiple food retailer types in rural Southwestern Ontario, Canada. International Journal of Health Geographics, 10(34). doi: 10.1186/1476-072X-10-34
  • Larsen, K., and Gilliland, J.A. (2009). A farmers’ market in a food desert: Evaluating impacts on the price and availability of healthy food. Health & Place, 15(4), 1158-1162. doi: 1016/j.healthplace.2009.06.007
  • Larsen, K., and Gilliland, J.A. (2008). Mapping the evolution of ‘food deserts’ in a Canadian city: Supermarket accessibility in London, Ontario, 1961-2005. International Journal of Health Geographics, 7(16). doi: 1186/1476-072X-7-16


  • van der Werf, Paul, “Developing and Testing a Novel Intervention to Reduce Household Food Waste" (2018). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 5896.
  • DuBreck, Catherine, “Exploring Geographic Variations in Community and Consumer Food Environments for Children" (2017). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 4673.
  • Cappuccitti, Sarah A., “The Development and Evaluation of a Smartphone Nutrition Intervention for Adolescents" (2017). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 4749.
  • McGregor, Mark D., “An Investigation of the Marketing Practices of Local Food Businesses in Southwestern Ontario" (2016). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 3517.
  • Clark, Michael AR, “Examining the Food Networks of Small Businesses in a Food District and the Potential for Fostering Local Economic Development" (2016). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 3519.
  • Sadler, Richard Casey, “Geographic Issues in Evaluating the Food System and Effective Interventions for Health and the Economy" (2013). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 1183.
  • Larsen, K. (2008). Identifying influences of social and physical environments on a child’s mode of travel to and from school
  • Luciani, M. R. (2005). The geography of emergency food assistance in london ontario

Professional Reports

HEAL Consultants, 2012. Mapping Opportunities for Healthy Eating and Healthy Physical Activity in Grey-Bruce, Ontario. Grey Bruce Health Unit: Owen Sound, ON.

HEAL Consultants, 2012. Assessing the Impact of Food Environments on Healthy Eating, Obesity & Health in Sarnia-Lambton. Sarnia-Lambton Community Health Services Department: Sarnia, ON.

HEAL Consultants, 2012. Mapping Environmental Barriers and Enablers for Healthy Food Consumption in Sarnia-Lambton. Sarnia-Lambton Community Health Services Department: Sarnia, ON.

HEAL Consultants, 2012. Assessing the Impact of Food Environments on Healthy Eating, Obesity & Health in Chatham-Kent. Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit: Chatham, ON.

HEAL Consultants, 2011. Mapping Environmental Barriers and Enablers for Healthy Living in Chatham-Kent. Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit: Chatham, ON.

HEAL Consultants, 2010. Mapping Opportunities for Physical Activity and Healthy Eating in Elgin-St. Thomas. Elgin St. Thomas Public Health: St. Thomas, ON.

For further information about HEAL’s role in this project, contact:

Dr. Jason Gilliland
Director, HEAL Lab
Principal Investigator