Concepts, Characterizations, and Cautions: A Public Health Guide and Glossary for Planning Food Environment Measurement

The Open Public Health Journal 04 Oct 2023 REVIEW ARTICLE DOI: 10.2174/18749445-v16-230821-2023-51



There is no singular approach to measuring the food environment suitable for all studies. Understanding terminology, methodology, and common issues can provide a foundation for cohesive and convincing findings.


This review is designed to support investigators and teams newly engaged in food environment measurement who are seeking to optimize and justify measurement choices across projects.


This guide defines key terms and provides annotated resources identified as a useful starting point for exploring the food environment literature. The writing team was a multi-institutional academic-practice collaboration, reflecting on measurement experience with food environments and other retail establishments across the US and in New York City.


Terms and annotated resources are divided into three sections: food environment constructs, classification and measures, and errors and strategies to reduce errors. Two examples of methods and challenges encountered while measuring the food environment in the context of a US health department are provided. Researchers and practice professionals are directed to the Food Environment Electronic Database Directory ( to compare available data sources for food environment measurement, focused on the US; this resource incorporates annual updates informed by user input and literature reviews.


Measuring the food environment is complex. This guide serves as a starting point for understanding some of the public health options and challenges for neighborhood food environment measurement.


Food environment measures and data sources vary in suitability depending on research and practice objectives. Reducing barriers to navigating existing literature can catalyze new insights and facilitate theoretically-grounded food environment measurement.


Built Environment, Food Environment

Keywords: Neighborhood characteristics, Geographic information systems, Data sources, Environment and public health, Public health practice, Resource guide.
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