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Measures of the Food Environment

A Compilation of the Literature, 1990–2007

      Background

      Valid and reliable measures are required to assess any effect of the food environment on individual dietary behavior, and form the foundation of research that may inform obesity-related policy. Although many methods of measuring the food environment exist, this area of research is still relatively new and there has been no systematic attempt to gather these measures, to compare and contrast them, or to report on their psychometric properties.

      Evidence acquisition

      A structured literature search was conducted to identify peer-reviewed articles published between January 1990 and August 2007 that measured the community-level food environment. These articles were categorized into the following environments: food stores, restaurants, schools, and worksites. The measurement strategies in these studies were categorized as instruments (checklists, market baskets, inventories, or interviews/questionnaires) or methodologies (geographic, sales, menu, or nutrient analyses).

      Evidence synthesis

      A total of 137 articles were identified that included measures of the food environment. Researchers focused on assessing the accessibility, availability, affordability, and quality of the food environment. The most frequently used measure overall was some form of geographic analysis. Eighteen of the 137 articles (13.1%) tested for any psychometric properties, including inter-rater reliability, test–retest reliability, and/or validity.

      Conclusions

      A greater focus on testing for reliability and validity of measures of the food environment may increase rigor in research in this area. Robust measures of the food environment may strengthen research on the effects of the community-level food environment on individual dietary behavior, assist in the development and evaluation of interventions, and inform policymaking targeted at reducing the prevalence of obesity and improving diet.
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