Food Environment Research

The Tulane PRC engages in a number of research projects related to neighborhood food environments in New Orleans. Studies show that people with access to fresh, healthy foods tend to have a healthier diet. In order to combat obesity, we must work to better understand the neighborhood food environment and increase community members’ access to healthy, sustainable food sources.

Core Research Project on Neighborhood Food Environment in New Orleans (2009-2014)


The Tulane Prevention Research Center’s core research project (2009-2014 grant cycle) examines the food environment in New Orleans, seeking to document changes since Hurricane Katrina, how these changes affect access to healthy food, and the impacts of these changes on food consumption behavior. The core research is community-based and relies on specific interventions and natural experiments to study the changing food landscape in New Orleans and its impacts on residents.

Click here for the paper (2011) on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on food access disparities in New Orleans in the American Journal of Public Health.
Click here for the paper (2012) on neighborhood food environments and obesity in southeast Louisiana in the journal Health & Place.

Past Projects

Phone Survey
This project examines the effects of new food stores in New Orleans. New food stores are expected because of the recently approved Fresh Food Retailer Incentive program, which allocates approximately $14 million in forgivable and low-interest loans for expanding fresh food offerings in existing stores or for installing new grocery stores in underserved areas. In the summer of 2011, household surveys were administered via telephone to collect information on shopping habits, food preferences, food consumption, and demographic characteristics. That data is currently being analyzed and prepared for reporting. A follow-up round of telephone surveys is currently being conducted (summer 2013) in order to capture consumption changes related to the new or expanded food stores.

Click here for the presentation abstract on the Phone Survey at the 2012 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting.
Click here for the presentation abstract on the Phone Survey at the 2014 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting.
Click here for the article (e-published January 2015) on the Phone Survey in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports.
Click here for the article (e-published February 2016) on the Phone Survey in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.

Principal Investigator: Jeanette Gustat, PhD, MPH

Neighborhood Study (Makin’ Groceries)
In addition to the city-wide phone survey, a supplementary project is currently being implemented. This project aims to have a more focused area of interest, revolving around individual new store openings and their surrounding neighborhoods. Door-to-door surveys were conducted in fall 2012 and spring 2013 in specific neighborhoods that will have changes in food access related to the New Orleans Fresh Food Retailer Initiative as well as in neighborhoods that have not had any food access changes. Results will be compared to analyze differences in healthy eating attitudes and practices as a result of new or expanded food store openings in a neighborhood. Additionally, intercept interviews may be conducted on-site as customers are entering or exiting the premises after the new store has opened. To read more about the project, click here.

Click here for the presentation abstract on Makin’ Groceries at the 2014 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting.
Click here for the presentation abstract on Makin’ Groceries and the Phone Survey at the 2013 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting.
Click here for the paper (e-published February 2017) on this study in Preventive Medicine Reports.

Principal Investigator: Jeanette Gustat, PhD, MPH

Childhood Obesity Assessment
The third project of our core research studies the relationship between physical and social environments and obesity-related behaviors in children. We have collected a baseline dataset on elementary schoolchildren in central city New Orleans. Data include observations on children’s weight and height, parental-reported physical activity and dietary behaviors of the children, as well as household-level data including food consumption, demographic characteristics, and socio-economic conditions. GIS data will allow matching of households with neighborhood characteristics on the food and physical activity environments. In observing the evolution of weight status and obesity-related behaviors among these children, we will be examining the role of specific individual, household, and neighborhood-level factors. Understanding the relative importance of these factors can inform subsequent intervention efforts in New Orleans and in other urban areas of the country.

Analyses are being conducted now with the data collected in January 2010. Based on the information obtained from these data, we conducted another assessment in 2012-2013 among the same participants to evaluate any changes in influence on childhood obesity. We are currently recruiting participants for the follow-up round of data collection to be conducted starting in 2012.

Investigator: Kat Theall, PhD, MPH

Food Store Observations / WIC Study
Our fourth project is focused on assessing the impact of WIC Program policy changes on the food store environment in New Orleans. WIC is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. In 2009, this USDA food assistance program instituted historic changes to participants’ food package benefits by increasing whole grains, low-fat milks, and fruits and vegetables. We collected in-store information from many food stores across the city before and after the 2009 change was implemented.

We are in the process of analyzing data from 2009 and 2010 to see how the change in policy is affecting the retail food store environment in New Orleans. We completed an additional round of in-store surveys providing a second round of follow-up data collection. We have also adapted the assessment instrument to allow this round of data collection to serve as a baseline measure of food store access and access to different categories of food items (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables) before any changes in the food environment go into affect as a result of the Fresh Food Retailer Initiative (FFRI).

Click here for the paper (2014) on the WIC study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Click here for the paper (2014) on the WIC Study in the journal Public Health Nutrition.
Click here for the paper (2012) on the WIC study in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

Investigator: Diego Rose, PhD, MPH

Other Related Projects


Movin' for LIFE

The overall goal of the Movin’ for LIFE (Lasting Improvements for Fitness and Energy) project is to improve the health of residents by focusing on increasing health-related behaviors, such as healthy eating and being more physically active. Residents of the Upper and Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East will participate in the program. A variety of strategies will be used to promote active and healthy lifestyles. Lessons learned will be used to create a…

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New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee

The New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee is a broad-based committee of area leaders working to improve access to fresh healthy food. The FPAC was authorized by a May 2007 resolution of the New Orleans City Council. For years after, FPAC met meets, independent of city government, to address various community needs involving food security and food access. In August 2018, the New Orleans City Council vote unanimously to re-instate FPAC as an advisory group…

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Center for Healthy Food Access (initiative with The Food Trust)

The Center for Healthy Food Access is a joint project between the Tulane Prevention Research Center and the Nutrition Section of the Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences Department in the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. The project is part of a national collaborative effort, led by The Food Trust’s new Center for Healthy Food Access, to help organizations and businesses increase access to and demand for healthy, affordable foods and beverages.…

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Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network (NOPREN)

Past Project NOPREN is a thematic research network of the CDC Prevention Research Center Program. Its mission is to conduct trans-disciplinary nutrition- and obesity-related policy research and evaluation along a policy change continuum (see below). The work of NOPREN members will help foster understanding of the effectiveness of policies related to preventing childhood obesity through improved access to affordable, healthy foods and beverages in a variety of settings including communities, workplaces, healthcare facilities, childcare institutions,…

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Corner Store Study

Past Project This Tulane Prevention Research Center (PRC) project was an in-depth case study of a small corner grocery store in a low-income, minority neighborhood in New Orleans. The aims of the study were to analyze the financial benefits of selling healthy and unhealthy food items from the perspective of a small food store business in a low-income neighborhood and to evaluate the effect of increasing the in-store accessibility or promotion of healthy items on…

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Impact of Food Availability on Diet

In 2006, investigators began work on two new projects exploring the effects of the neighborhood environment on food consumption by residents. Neighborhood environments may contribute to the problem of obesity by providing excess availability of calorie-dense snack foods and insufficient availability of low-calorie nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables. Low-income individuals – who often have difficult access to fresh fruits and vegetables – consume less of these foods and are more likely to be…

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Neighborhood Food Availability, Consumer Economics, and Sentinel Food Consumption

Past Project This 2-year project was funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute through an R-21 research grant. The specific aims of this project were: To develop a standard set of measures of neighborhood food availability and a detailed modeling framework in which to test the association of these measures with consumption; To determine whether the availability of fruits and vegetables at the neighborhood level is associated with consumption of these foods by…

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New Orleans Food Access and Consumption Study

Past Project This project was funded for three years through the USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service through their National Research Initiative. This was an integrated project, meaning that the research was integrated with extension and teaching components. The research objectives were similar to those described in the former study. The main distinction is that in this study, we were focused specifically on the City of New Orleans and the data sources were…

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Featured Publications




Formative research in school and community-based health programs and studies: "state of the art" and the TAAG approach


Nutrition and Food Availability


Has the WIC incentive to formula-feed led to an increase in overweight children?

all scientific publications




What Do New Orleans Residents Want in Their Neighborhoods?


Policy Briefs


School Vending

all prc publications