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The potential influence of the digital food retail environment on health: A systematic scoping review of the literature.

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Keeble, Matthew 
Driessen, Christine 


INTRODUCTION: The digital food retail environment (defined in this study as a digital platform, app or website where food can be purchased by individuals for personal consumption) is an emerging component of the wider food system. We aimed to systematically search and review the literature to understand the potential influence of the digital food retail environment on population diets and health. METHODS: Four databases (across health, business, and marketing) and grey literature were searched using terms relating to "food and beverages," "digital," and "purchasing." Identified studies were included if they examined any aspect of the digital food retail environment where outcomes were examined with a health-related focus and were published before September 2023. All study designs were included (quantitative, qualitative, observational, and experimental). Reviews and conference abstracts were excluded. RESULTS: We identified 21,382 studies, of which 57 articles were eligible for inclusion. Of the 57 included studies, 30 studies examined online grocery retail, 22 examined online food delivery platforms, and five examined meal kit subscription services. Of the 30 studies examining online grocery retail, six studies reported that customers believed they purchased fewer unhealthy food and beverages when shopping online, compared with shopping in-store. Nevertheless, customers also reported that their ability to choose healthy foods and beverages was reduced when shopping online due to difficulty in product comparison. Studies that examined online food delivery platforms primarily found that they promoted unhealthy foods and beverages more often than healthy options, through extensive use of marketing practices such as price discounts and images, and that unhealthy food offerings on these platforms dominate. Meal kit subscription services offered mostly healthy meals, with studies suggesting that these types of services may help individuals alleviate some of their "mental load" and stress related to cooking meals for their families. CONCLUSIONS: The literature describing the digital food retail environment was found to be diverse, with different aspects having potential to impact health in different ways. Some evidence suggests that online grocery retail and meal kit subscription services may have positive population dietary impacts, whereas online food delivery platforms appear likely to promote unhealthy food purchasing. However, the current evidence base is fragmented, with many knowledge gaps. Further research is required to understand the influence of the digital food retail environment on population diets and how these environments can be designed to support healthy food choices.



food environment, nutrition policy, online food delivery, public health, Humans, Food, Beverages, Diet, Marketing, Commerce, Meals

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Obes Rev

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MRC (MC_UU_00006/7)