Unit 2, Activity 9: Mapping Food Environments, Demographics and Health

Activity Description/Rationale 

The guiding questions of this activity are: where do we tend to find specific food environments? What are the geographical/spatial connections between food environments, demographics and health? Students will use spatial data from their neighborhoods and/or regions about socioeconomic status, ethnicity, features of food environments, and diet-related diseases to create maps.  Then they will analyze the maps to explore the connections between the data.



Students will…

- identify the types of food environments in their neighborhoods

- explore where these food environments tend to be located, and how they relate to demographics and health in their locations

- know the general relationships between specific food environments, demographics and health in the U.S.

- be introduced to social science mapping for food research, and work with real social science data


Universal Design for Learning/Differentiation



  1. food environment data for some geographical subdivision (e.g. census tracts, community districts) in your region, in a chart or table format – you can choose whatever data is available, ideal ones would be locations of farmer’s markets, supermarkets, and bodegas/corner grocers, and grocery store square footage
  2. socioeconomic and ethnic data (e.g. income levels, majority ethnicities) for geographical subdivisions in your region, in a chart or table format
  3. diet-related diseases data (e.g. prevalence of obesity, diabetes, hunger, malnutrition) for geographical subdivisions in your region, in a chart or table format
  4. base map of each locality (neighborhood, community, or an area that you choose that allows you to create students groups based on where students live) with the subdivisions appropriate for the food environment data you chose outlined, and whatever features are necessary for the data (e.g. major roads)


Estimated Time of Activity
50 minutes

Students will have completed Activity F4b in Green Design Lab: Food and created photovoices on their neighborhood food environments.

Activity Instructions

  1. Warm Up/ Do Now (10 min): Continue the discussion of which food environments exist in students’ neighborhoods, communities and the region.  Did the homework assignments change what students said during the Wrap-up of Activity 8?  Discuss the assignments, especially focusing on food costs, fresh vs. processed foods, and kinds of nutrients available. Ask students to share their photovoice narratives.
  2. Group Work (25 min):  Group students by neighborhoods or communities (if possible).  Give each group their base map and two transparencies (or two base maps).  Give them socioeconomic/income and ethnicity data tables for that subdivision.  Ask students to choose a series of colors for the former dataset and a series of patterns for the latter, and have them fill in each subdivision according to the majority socioeconomic status and ethnic group (or split the subdivision up between multiple status levels and groups if there is no majority).  Then give them the food environment data, have them choose an appropriate marker for the data (e.g. points of different shapes for different types of food environments, points of different sizes for supermarket square footage), and mark those points on transparency (or base map).  Next give them the diet-related diseases data and have them choose a different set of colors from what they used for socioeconomic status and color in the subdivisions with the prevalent diet-related diseases for those subdivisions on another transparency (or a second base map).  Ask them to review the maps by eye and make a data chart that displays all the data for each subdivision alongside the subdivision.   Last ask them to write down a few sentences about what trends they see for the relationships between types of food environments, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and diet-related diseases (from the chart they made). 
  3. Wrap-up/Whole Class Discussion (15 min):  Have each student group summarize how they interpreted their maps.  Discuss.  Were there any common potential connections between types of food environments, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and diet-related diseases?  Explain that in social science, GIS and statistics would be used to analyze this data, rather than the human eye, for faster and more accurate analysis.  Statistical analysis also can often tell us whether variables are correlated or just coincidental.  Spend a few minutes showing some maps and graphs about the connections between types of food environments, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and diet-related diseases across the U.S.


Assessment and Reflection

The Warm Up/Do Now asks students to reflect on their experience-based homework assignments.  The Wrap-up assesses students’ understandings of the knowledge they gained so far in this unit, and their ability to use their understanding to analyze data. 

Instructor’s Notes

Be prepared to spend some time searching for and possibly editing/converting the datasets, as the sets you desire might be difficult to find, or not all at the same scale, etc.