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The goal of the present study was to use a methodology that accurately and reliably describes the availability, price and quality of healthy foods at both the store and community levels using the Nutrition Environment Measures Survey in Stores (NEMS-S), to propose a spatial methodology for integrating these store and community data into measures for defining objective food access.
Two hundred and sixty-five retail food stores in and within 2 miles (3·2 km) of Flint, Michigan, USA, were mapped using ArcGIS mapping software.
A survey based on the validated NEMS-S was conducted at each retail food store. Scores were assigned to each store based on a modified version of the NEMS-S scoring system and linked to the mapped locations of stores. Neighbourhood characteristics (race and socio-economic distress) were appended to each store. Finally, spatial and kernel density analyses were run on the mapped store scores to obtain healthy food density metrics.
Regression analyses revealed that neighbourhoods with higher socio-economic distress had significantly lower dairy sub-scores compared with their lower-distress counterparts (β coefficient=−1·3; P=0·04). Additionally, supermarkets were present only in neighbourhoods with <60 % African-American population and low socio-economic distress. Two areas in Flint had an overall NEMS-S score of 0.
By identifying areas with poor access to healthy foods via a validated metric, this research can be used help local government and organizations target interventions to high-need areas. Furthermore, the methodology used for the survey and the mapping exercise can be replicated in other cities to provide comparable results.
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