Mapping obesogenic food environments in South Africa and Ghana: Correlations and contradictions
This paper (PDF) in the Sustainability Journal explores correlations and linkages between neighbourhood food environments and household food environments, with particular emphasis on the risk they pose for obesity. In sub-Saharan Africa, urbanisation and food systems change contribute to rapid dietary transitions promoting obesity. It is unclear to what extent these changes are mediated by neighbourhood food environments or other factors. This paper correlates neighbourhood food provision with household consumption and poverty in Khayelitsha, South Africa and Ahodwo, Ghana. The findings confirm the conclusions reached by several previous studies, namely that: 1) there is a co-existence of a diverse range of formal and informal food outlets; 2) obesogenic foods are widely prevalent and available; 3) supermarket expansion in particular is making ultra-processed and other obesogenic foods more accessibl; and 4) there are high levels of consumption of obesogenic foods. Further, the results reveal that household food environments promoting obesity, more prevalent in Khayelitsha than in Ahodwo, appear correlated with neighbourhood food environments, which make obesogenic foods accessible and available, despite greater poverty in Khayelitsha. They also suggest that poverty is a powerful determinant not only of household consumption and purchasing but also of local food environments, thus suggesting a systemic feedback loop contrary to the direction of causality commonly implied in food environments theory. Making these “foodscapes” visible and legible may enable state and civil society agents to frame them as more concrete objects of local governance discourse. This is essential to galvanise the “will to transform” them. In light of the above interpretation of the findings, however, governance of food environments may offer only limited leverage to address obesity in the face of systemic poverty and inequality. It cannot substitute for more fundamental engagement with socio-economic and spatial drivers of obesity which transcends a narrow focus on food.