"We found that for men only, intake of fruit and vegetables was positively associated with the proportion of healthy food outlets around home", said lead researcher Christelle M. Clary.

"Women rely on other aspects of the food environment than the proportion of food stores locally available," added professor Yan Kestens. The study was based on data from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) and looked at the eating habits of 49,403 Canadians living in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa.

The food outlets of each city were mapped using a database containing information on the type and location of all food businesses. For the purpose of this study, supermarkets, grocery stores, fruit and vegetable stores and natural food stores were considered as potential sources of 'healthy foods' (especially fruits and vegetables), while convenience stores and fast-food restaurants were considered less healthy food sources.

"Overall, the data show that women from our sample declare eating on an average 4.4 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, almost one more daily portion than men," Clary said. The research team believes that more research is needed to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms linking food environment and diet.

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