Exploring experiences of the food environment among immigrants living in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario

Paulina I. Rodriguez, Jennifer Dean, Sharon Kirkpatrick, Lisbeth Berbary, Steffanie Scott


OBJECTIVES: This exploratory study aimed to shed light on the role of the food environment in shaping food access among immigrants living in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario.

METHODS: In this qualitative case study, in-depth interviews aided by photovoice were conducted with nine immigrants, and key informant (KI) interviews were conducted with nine community stakeholders (e.g., settlement workers, planners) who held expert knowledge of the local context with respect to both the food system and experiences of immigrants in interacting with this system. In this paper, we focus specifically on insights related to the food environment, applying the Analysis Grid for Environments Linked to Obesity Framework to assess economic, physical, socio-cultural and political aspects.

RESULTS: Economic features of the food environment, including food prices and differential costs of different types of food, emerged as factors related to food access. However, interactions with the food environment were shaped by broader economic factors, such as limited employment opportunities and low income. Most immigrants felt that they had good geographic access to food, though KIs expressed concerns about the types of outlet and food that were most accessible. Immigrants discussed social networks and cultural food practices, whereas KIs discussed political issues related to supporting food security in the Region.

CONCLUSION: This exploratory case study is consistent with prior research in highlighting the economic constraints within which food access exists but suggests that there may be a need to further dissect food environments.


Food supply; emigrants and immigrants; food intake; environment; refugees; immigrant

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17269/cjph.107.5310