BACKGROUND: Residential environment features such as availability of supermarkets may shape dietary behaviour and thus overweight and obesity. This relationship may not be consistent between cities. This Australian national-level study examined: 1) the relationship between supermarket availability and body size; and 2) whether this relationship varied by capital city.
METHODS: This study used 2017-18 Australian National Health Survey data including individual-level socio-demographic information (age, sex, country of birth, education, occupation, household income), and measured body size (height and weight to derive body mass index [BMI], and waist circumference [WC]). Objectively-expressed measures of residential environments included: counts of supermarkets (major chain outlets), counts of amenities (representing walkable destinations including essential services, recreation, and entertainment), and area of public open space - each expressed within road-network buffers at 1000 m and 1500 m; population density (1km2 grid cells); and neighbourhood disadvantage (Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage) expressed within Statistical Area Level 1 units. Data for adult respondents ≥18 years residing in each of Australia's state and territory capital cities (n = 9649) were used in multilevel models to estimate associations between supermarket availability and body size sequentially accounting for individual and other environment measures. An interaction term estimated city-specific differences in associations between supermarket availability and body size. Models were consequently repeated stratified by city.
RESULTS: Body size (BMI and WC) and supermarket availability varied between cities. Initial inverse associations between supermarket availability and body size (BMI and WC) were attenuated to null with inclusion of all covariates, except for BMI in the 1000 m buffer model (beta = - 0.148, 95%CI -0.27, - 0.01, p = 0.025). In stratified analyses, the strengths of associations varied between cities, remaining statistically significant only for some cities (BMI: Melbourne, Brisbane Hobart; WC: Brisbane, Hobart) in fully adjusted models. Different patterns of attenuation of associations with inclusion of covariates were evident for different cities.
CONCLUSIONS: For Australian capital cities, greater availability of supermarkets is associated with healthful body size. Marked between-city variations in body size, supermarket availability, and relationships between supermarket availability and body size do not, however, support universal, "one-size-fits-all" solutions to change built environments to support healthful body size.