Leveraging the Food Environment in Obesity Prevention: the Promise of Systems Science and Agent-Based Modeling

Yan Li, Julia Berenson, Amanda Gutiérrez, José A. Pagán

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Understanding (and reshaping) the neighborhood food environment has emerged as an important pathway to change diet and reduce obesity risk. Dietary behaviors and the development of obesity are complex processes which feature interactions among multiple biological, behavioral, environmental, and cultural factors. Systems science, especially agent-based modeling, offers an effective approach to help identify the best strategies to leverage the food environment in ways that can improve dietary behaviors and prevent obesity. With support from existing literature, this study presents a conceptual framework that describes the pathways through which food environment influences dietary behaviors and obesity. The paper articulates the rationale for using systems science to understand the dynamics and interactions of food environment, dietary behaviors, and obesity. Two specific agent-based models depicting the food environment are presented to demonstrate the promise of systems science to inform the design and implementation of public health interventions and policies for improving dietary behaviors and preventing obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-254
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent Nutrition Reports
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Agent-based modeling
  • Food environment
  • Obesity
  • Systems science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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