Photovoice: A useful method to learn about the food environment

Connecting photographs with descriptions helped researchers learn about the diet of children, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

Philadelphia, PA, September 9, 2015

Childhood obesity is linked to diet habits and food environment, but gaining information about these topics from children can often be difficult. Using the Photovoice method, however, researchers from the University of Minnesota were able to engage participants and learn about the food environments and eating habits of 9- to 13-year-old children eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Photovoice method pairs photographs taken by participants with interviews about those photos, and has been shown to be effective in conducting research and building trust with children. In the University of Minnesota study, participants were given disposable cameras and instructed to take photos of commonly consumed foods at home, school, and in the community, as well as the people who influenced their food consumption. Collecting data in this manner helped the researchers to connect with the youths and gain valuable insight.

“Children enjoyed taking pictures and wanted to keep a copy of their photos,” principal investigator Chery Smith, PhD, MPH, RD, said.

Researchers quantitatively and qualitatively analyzed the photos and selected 3 to 5 to follow up through interviews with the children. In interviews, children explained why they photographed certain foods and how the people and places they photographed were related to their experiences with food.

Food insecurity was shown through photographs and discussed in interviews. Most refrigerators, freezers, and pantries were half full, but some were nearly empty; children reported that their family’s use of SNAP determined what food was available to them. Likewise, it was observed that peers and siblings are the most involved at meal times, but parents determined what food was available by shopping, cooking education, and passing on cultural norms. These insights helped the researchers understand ways the participants’ diets may be improved.

“The diet of the entire family must be addressed before any changes in the individual child’s diet can occur,” explained researcher Lindsay Heidelberger, RD, LD. “Encouraging parents to make healthy foods more available at home and to introduce healthy new foods could improve the likelihood that children would try and accept healthy foods.”

Overall, the information from this research could be used to help inform future research on food environments and dietary habits. Similarly, as the Photovoice method proved effective, it may be a useful tool for future research with children.


Notes for Editors
“The Food Environment Through the Camera Lenses of 9- 13-Year-Olds Living in Urban, Low-Income, Midwestern Households: A Photovoice Project,” by Lindsay Heidelberger, RD, LD; and Chery Smith, PhD, MPH, RD (DOI:, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 47, Issue 5 (September-October 2015), published by Elsevier. 

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628or to obtain copies. To schedule an interview with the authors, please contact Dr. Chery Smith, Professor, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota;

An audio podcast featuring an interview with Dr. Chery Smith and information specifically for journalists are located at Excerpts from the podcast may be reproduced by the media; contact Eileen Leahy to obtain permission.

About The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB), the official journal of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB), is a refereed, scientific periodical that serves as a resource for all professionals with an interest in nutrition education and dietary/physical activity behaviors. The purpose of JNEB is to document and disseminate original research, emerging issues, and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide and to promote healthy, sustainable food choices. It supports the society’s efforts to disseminate innovative nutrition education strategies, and communicate information on food, nutrition, and health issues to students, professionals, policy makers, targeted audiences, and the public.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior features articles that provide new insights and useful findings related to nutrition education research, practice, and policy. The content areas of JNEB reflect the diverse interests of health, nutrition, education, Cooperative Extension, and other professionals working in areas related to nutrition education and behavior. As the Society's official journal, JNEB also includes occasional policy statements, issue perspectives, and member communications.

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