PhD opportunity: Modelling and Quantification of Food Deserts

A food desert is a neighbourhood, usually within an urban area, where inhabitants have poor access to affordable, nutritious food.

Image of supermarket shelves covered in junk food.

Consequently, their diet can be restricted to foods that are high in calories but low in nutritional value, which can significantly impact their health and well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issue, due to volatility in supply chains and the effects of panic-buying. Therefore, understanding how food deserts form and how different interventions can alleviate the situation is of paramount importance to public health in these communities.

About the project

This project will combine mathematical modelling and data science approaches to improve our understanding of how food deserts arise in a city, accounting for community factors such as median household income, local geography, and other relevant population demographics.

We will develop agent-based models to explore hypotheses about how food deserts form. Alongside this modelling approach, we will use statistical analysis of spatial data (e.g., the distribution and type of stores), incorporating local demographic covariates to understand the patterns characteristic of food deserts in the UK and Australia.

By comparing the real and simulated data, we will be able to gain new insights into how and why food deserts develop. This can then be used to predict the effects of interventions, such as where to place new establishments that provide nutritious foods to benefit the largest possible amount of community members.

Prerequisite knowledge and eligibility

A background knowledge of mathematical modelling, computer programming and basic data analysis would be advantageous. Familiarity with analytical and computational approaches to solutions of partial differential equations is needed; however, no previous knowledge about food deserts or agent-based modelling is assumed.

To gain admission, you’ll need one of the following:

  • An undergraduate Honours degree (or equivalent) in Mathematics or a closely related field, with at least a 2:1 / 2A standing (second-class honours, upper division)
  • A postgraduate coursework degree which contains a significant research component and meets the minimum GPA requirements
  • A research Masters degree in Mathematics or a closely related field
  • Evidence of English language requirements may also be required.

Funding and location

The scholarship associated with this PhD project provides a living allowance (stipend) of AUD$28,597 (tax free, 2021 rate) for up to 4 years (per the Joint Award Agreement) for research towards a Doctor of Philosophy, subject to satisfactory progress. Tuition fees are also waived under the terms of the Joint Award Agreement for up to 4 years.

The 4-year PhD project will be jointly hosted via the University of Adelaide and the University of Nottingham in equal duration. The applicant will commence their studies in either Adelaide or Nottingham, subject to the applicant’s current location and travel restrictions relating to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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