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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UGA: Novel Model Guides Rural Communities on Improving Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

Researchers at the University of Georgia are using a new statistical model to help guide policy around food access in rural communities, specifically related fruit and vegetables.

The question of how to improve access to fruits and vegetables or even whether increased access translates into higher fruit and vegetable consumption has historically been hard to answer, said corresponding author Dr. Janani Thapa, an assistant professor of health policy and management at University of Georgia College of Public Health.

Though countless interventions and best practices have been developed to address issues around obesity and access to healthier foods, it can be expensive to get a project off the ground.

And with so many variables at play that could spell an effort’s success or failure, how can rural communities know they are using their resources wisely?

To answer this question, Dr. Thapa and her team turned to a new computational technique that can simulate a real-world intervention.

The agent-based model was developed to take into account all the details that can determine a person’s likelihood to engage in a certain behavior, including demographic information, the food local environment, and even health beliefs.

Using participant data from a previous study based in a rural Texas community, the researchers used their model to predict whether they could increase fruit and vegetable consumption by decreasing the driving distance to get to the produce source.

“We found that a five-mile decrease could lead to a 25 percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption,” said Dr. Thapa.

The study suggests that this type of modeling can be a cost-effective way to evaluate and guide policymaking around diet-related interventions in rural areas.

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