Is the sky the limit to what we can eat? Exploring apartment living and food practices.

Most Australians do not consume a diet that complies with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, resulting in detrimental consequences for health and wellbeing. However, food practices, which can directly impact what we eat, are a modifiable risk factor. Identifying determinants of food practices is therefore essential.

Over 2 millions of Australians, representing about 10% of the population, are currently living in apartments, with recent increases aligne

Google Maps, 2020. ARU: Melbourne, 3D image. Google Maps [online]

d with housing affordability. Australian apartment residents are not limited to the young and those living alone. In fact, at the 2016 Census, 48% of those in apartments were families.

Understanding the ways apartment living may influence food practices will inform apartment design guidelines and planning strategies to provide greater opportunities for healthier food practices amongst apartment dwellers.

Apartment living is rising in Australia

Australia has seen its population significantly grow over the last decades, with cities accounting for 79% of total growth. This increase in population comes together with a rapid growth in higher density living.

The shift to apartment living has resulted in changes in home infrastructure. Apartment designs are often much smaller than traditional detached houses, even more so when considering high-rise apartments. Changes in home infrastructure may mean limited space to store foods and prepare meals for those living in apartments, potentially discouraging residents from cooking at home, or having friends or family over for meals.

Apartment living may have implications for food practices

Little research has explored how apartment living influences food practices. In our recent study, published in Public Health Nutrition, we explored the role of dwelling type on food expenditure. We estimated that those living in high-rise apartments spend, on average, 25% of their food budget on meals in restaurants, compared to only 14% for those living in detached houses. This difference of over 10% may relate to households in high-rise apartments being more inclined to go out for meals in restaurants to compensate for the limited space available in their homes.

In a qualitative pilot study, the first results of which have been published in Cities & Health, we conducted photo-elicited interviews to gather information on how apartment living and design influenced food practices. The preliminary evidence suggests that some barriers exist with regards to the types of food those in apartments felt they could purchase, store, and prepare. However, also evident were several ways people adapted their food practices to ensure they could mostly still have the foods and meals they wanted. Further analysis and publications on this data are in preparation.

  What’s next?

Given apartment living is becoming ever more prevalent in Australian cities, there is a need for further studies to more deeply understand the potential influence of apartment living and apartment design on food practices.

Laura Oostenbach is a PhD Candidate at the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN). Her research focuses on the role of work hours and commuting time on food practices and the potential moderating role of neighbourhood design. Lukar Thornton is an Associate Professor at IPAN and Honours course director within the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences (SENS). Associate Prof Thornton leads research in neighbourhood environments and health behaviours.


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