Shaping the local environment to change behaviour and prevent harm

Work Package 5: Shaping The Environment

Work Package Investigators: Jamie Pearce (University of Edinburgh), Niamh Shortt (University of Edinburgh) and Graham Moore (Cardiff University).

Aim: To examine the intended and unintended impacts of (and interventions in) the local commercial environment on the consumption of unhealthy commodities.


  • Compile a comprehensive interactive mapping platform to integrate data on alcohol, tobacco and food outlet and advertising locations with information tracking people’s mobility;
  • Develop novel geographical analyses to model the impacts and unintended consequences of policy approaches designed to change local environments; and to merge data on availability, price, marketing and norms to examine how these factors interact.

Methods and Data Sources: We will build on our existing publicly accessible platform for mapping tobacco and alcohol environments in Scotland to develop a comparable resource for tobacco, alcohol and food retailing across Great Britain. Spatial data will be obtained from a variety of sources including the Register of Tobacco and Vapour Product Retailers (Scotland), alcohol-licensing boards, Ordnance Survey Points of Interest database, Google Street View and food business registers. We will also work alongside our commercial partners, The Retail Data Partnership, to integrate retailer-level purchasing data. We will apply exposure science theory, at scale, to examine the influence of the unhealthy commodities environment on tobacco and alcohol consumption. Existing work relies on simplistic notions of exposure, failing to adequately capture both the multiple spaces that different groups occupy over the course of their daily lives (home, work, school, leisure etc.), and exposures to different commodities in these spaces. This omission almost certainly leads to mis-specifying people’s exposure to product availability, marketing and visual cues which shape the local norms associated with consumption patterns.

Little is known about people’s daily ‘activity spaces’ and how people’s experiences of alcohol, tobacco and food stimuli vary amongst different groups (e.g. young people, smokers), and the extent and nature of exposure to unhealthy commodity environments for more vulnerable populations (e.g. problem drinkers, poor mental health). Existing datasets including information on the mobility patterns (obtained using GPS and mobile sensors) of different population groups will be used alongside purposively collected data to assess when, where and how people are subjected to key aspects of unhealthy commodity environments, and we will involve our partners the Poverty Alliance in shaping the work. We will develop the evidence base: a) linking the interaction of availability, price and marketing with behavioural outcomes; and b) examining the importance of geographical differences in price differentials in influencing purchasing decisions.