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01.12.2017 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2017

Local descriptive body weight and dietary norms, food availability, and 10-year change in glycosylated haemoglobin in an Australian population-based biomedical cohort

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2017
Suzanne J. Carroll, Catherine Paquet, Natasha J. Howard, Neil T. Coffee, Robert J. Adams, Anne W. Taylor, Theo Niyonsenga, Mark Daniel



Individual-level health outcomes are shaped by environmental risk conditions. Norms figure prominently in socio-behavioural theories yet spatial variations in health-related norms have rarely been investigated as environmental risk conditions. This study assessed: 1) the contributions of local descriptive norms for overweight/obesity and dietary behaviour to 10-year change in glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c), accounting for food resource availability; and 2) whether associations between local descriptive norms and HbA1c were moderated by food resource availability.


HbA1c, representing cardiometabolic risk, was measured three times over 10 years for a population-based biomedical cohort of adults in Adelaide, South Australia. Residential environmental exposures were defined using 1600 m participant-centred road-network buffers. Local descriptive norms for overweight/obesity and insufficient fruit intake (proportion of residents with BMI ≥ 25 kg/m2 [n = 1890] or fruit intake of <2 serves/day [n = 1945], respectively) were aggregated from responses to a separate geocoded population survey. Fast-food and healthful food resource availability (counts) were extracted from a retail database.
Separate sets of multilevel models included different predictors, one local descriptive norm and either fast-food or healthful food resource availability, with area-level education and individual-level covariates (age, sex, employment status, education, marital status, and smoking status). Interactions between local descriptive norms and food resource availability were tested.


HbA1c concentration rose over time. Local descriptive norms for overweight/obesity and insufficient fruit intake predicted greater rates of increase in HbA1c. Neither fast-food nor healthful food resource availability were associated with change in HbA1c. Greater healthful food resource availability reduced the rate of increase in HbA1c concentration attributed to the overweight/obesity norm.


Local descriptive health-related norms, not food resource availability, predicted 10-year change in HbA1c. Null findings for food resource availability may reflect a sufficiency or minimum threshold level of resources such that availability poses no barrier to obtaining healthful or unhealthful foods for this region. However, the influence of local descriptive norms varied according to food resource availability in effects on HbA1c. Local descriptive health-related norms have received little attention thus far but are important influences on individual cardiometabolic risk. Further research is needed to explore how local descriptive norms contribute to chronic disease risk and outcomes.
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