Context: Improving access to healthy foods is a promising strategy to prevent nutrition-related chronic diseases. To characterize retail food environments and identify areas with limited retail access, researchers, government programs, and community advocates have primarily used secondary retail food outlet data sources (e.g., InfoUSA or government food registries). To advance the state of the science on measuring retail food environments, this systematic review examined the evidence for validity reported for secondary retail food outlet data sources for characterizing retail food environments.
Evidence acquisition: A literature search was conducted through December 31, 2012, to identify peer-reviewed published literature that compared secondary retail food outlet data sources to primary data sources (i.e., field observations) for accuracy of identifying the type and location of retail food outlets. Data were analyzed in 2013.
Evidence synthesis: Nineteen studies met the inclusion criteria. The evidence for validity reported varied by secondary data sources examined, primary data-gathering approaches, retail food outlets examined, and geographic and sociodemographic characteristics. More than half of the studies (53%) did not report evidence for validity by type of food outlet examined and by a particular secondary data source.
Conclusions: Researchers should strive to gather primary data but if relying on secondary data sources, InfoUSA and government food registries had higher levels of agreement than reported by other secondary data sources and may provide sufficient accuracy for exploring these associations in large study areas.
Published by Elsevier Inc. on behalf of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.