Measuring Potential Access to Food Stores and Food-Service Places in Rural Areas in the U.S.
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Geographic access to healthy food resources remains a major focus of research that examines the contribution of the built environment to healthful eating. Methods used to define and measure spatial accessibility can significantly affect the results. Considering the implications for marketing, policy, and programs, adequate measurement of the food environment is important. Little of the published work on food access has focused on rural areas, where the burden of nutrition-related disease is greater. This article seeks to expand our understanding of the challenges to measurement of potential spatial access to food resources in rural areas in the U.S. Key challenges to the accurate measurement of the food environment in rural areas include: (1) defining the rural food environment while recognizing that market factors may be changing; (2) describing characteristics that may differentiate similar types of food stores and food-service places; and (3) determining location coordinates for food stores and food-service places. In order to enhance measurements in rural areas, "ground-truthed" methodology, which includes on-site observation and collection of GPS data, should become the standard for rural areas. Measurement must also recognize the emergence of new and changing store formats. Efforts should be made to determine accessibility, in terms of both proximity to a single location and variety of multiple locations within a specified buffer, from origins other than the home, and consider multipurpose trips and trip chaining. The measurement of food access will be critical for community-based approaches to meet dietary needs. Researchers must be willing to take the steps necessary for rigorous measurement of a dynamic food environment.
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