Background: While there is a growing body of research on food environments for children, there has not been a published comprehensive review to date evaluating food environments outside the home and school and their relationship with diet in children. The purpose of this paper is to review evidence on the influence of the community and consumer nutrition environments on the diet of children under the age of 18 years.
Methods: Our search strategy included a combination of both subject heading searching as well as natural language, free-text searching. We searched nine databases (MEDLINE, Web of Science, CINAHL, Embase, Scopus, ProQuest Public Health, PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts, and GEOBASE) for papers published between 1995 and July 2013. Study designs were included if they were empirically-based, published scholarly research articles, were focused on children as the population of interest, fit within the previously mentioned date range, included at least one diet outcome, and exposures within the community nutrition environment (e.g., location and accessibility of food outlets), and consumer nutrition environment (e.g., price, promotion, and placement of food choices).
Results: After applying exclusion and inclusion criteria, a total of 26 articles were included in our review. The vast majority of the studies were cross-sectional in design, except for two articles reporting on longitudinal studies. The food environment exposure(s) included aspects of the community nutrition environments, except for three that focused on the consumer nutrition environment. The community nutrition environment characterization most often used Geographic Information Systems to geolocate participants' homes (and/or schools) and then one or more types of food outlets in relation to these. The children included were all of school age. Twenty-two out of 26 studies showed at least one positive association between the food environment exposure and diet outcome. Four studies reported only null associations.
Conclusions: This review found moderate evidence of the relationship between the community and consumer nutrition environments and dietary intake in children up to 18 years of age. There is wide variation in measures used to characterize both the community and consumer nutrition environments and diet, and future research should work to decrease this heterogeneity.