Purpose: Food environments affect people's food-related decisions, consumption, and health outcomes. This paper critiques instruments available for assessing food environments to help researchers, practitioners, and community organizations select those that best meet their needs, resources, and level of expertise. Gaps and recommendations for future instrument development are discussed.
Method: Instruments were selected by reviewing the literature and contacting researchers and practitioners. Using the social-ecological model, the instruments were classified according to the type of food environments they assess. Each instrument is rated according to criteria for ease of use, detail, resources required, and psychometric testing.
Results: Of the 48 instruments identified, only 39% were tested for validity or reliability. Observational tools were the largest category of instruments developed. Fifty-two percent of the instruments provide some level of technical assistance and 37% are considered appropriate for community members.
Conclusion: Three distinct groups want to assess food environments: researchers, practitioners, and community organizations. These groups have different information needs and different capacities to undertake assessments. At this time there is a tradeoff between simplicity and low cost on the one hand, and detail and accuracy on the other. To choose the most suitable instrument, users should consider the pros and cons of each instrument and base their selection on purpose of their assessment, resources and expertise at hand, and validity, reliability, and ease of use of the instrument.