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J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Apr;111(4):577-82. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.01.008.

Public directory data sources do not accurately characterize the food environment in two predominantly rural states.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, NH 03756-0001, USA.


Communities are being encouraged to develop locally based interventions to address environmental risk factors for obesity. Online public directories represent an affordable and easily accessible mechanism for mapping community food environments, but may have limited utility in rural areas. The primary aim of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of public directories vs rigorous onsite field verification to characterize the community food environment in 32 geographically dispersed towns from two rural states covering 1,237.6 square miles. Eight types of food outlets were assessed in 2007, including food markets and eating establishments, first using two publically available online directories followed by onsite field verification by trained coders. χ(2) and univariate binomial regression were used to determine whether the proportion of outlets accurately listed varied by food outlet type or town population. Among 1,340 identified outlets, only 36.9% were accurately listed through public directories; 29.6% were not listed but were located during field observation. Accuracy varied by outlet type, being most accurate for big box stores and least accurate for farm/produce stands. Overall, public directories accurately identified fewer than half of the food outlets. Accuracy was significantly lower for rural and small towns compared to mid-size and urban towns (P<0.001). In this geographic sample, public directories seriously misrepresented the actual distribution of food outlets, particularly for rural and small towns. To inform local obesity-prevention efforts, communities should strongly consider using field verification to characterize the food environment in low-population areas.

Copyright © 2011 American Dietetic Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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