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Conceptualisations of ‘food deserts’ (areas lacking healthful food/drink) and ‘food swamps’ (areas overwhelm by less-healthful fare) may be both inaccurate and incomplete. Our objective was to more accurately and completely characterise food/drink availability in urban areas.
Cross-sectional assessment of select healthful and less-healthful food/drink offerings from storefront businesses (stores, restaurants) and non-storefront businesses (street vendors).
Two areas of New York City: the Bronx (higher-poverty, mostly minority) and the Upper East Side (UES; wealthier, predominantly white).
All businesses on 63 street segments in the Bronx (n 662) and on 46 street segments in the UES (n 330).
Greater percentages of businesses offered any, any healthful, and only less-healthful food/drink in the Bronx (42·0 %, 37·5 %, 4·4 %, respectively) than in the UES (30 %, 27·9 %, 2·1 %, respectively). Differences were driven mostly by businesses (e.g. newsstands, gyms, laundromats) not primarily focused on selling food/drink – ‘other storefront businesses’ (OSBs). OSBs accounted for 36·0 % of all food/drink-offering businesses in the Bronx (more numerous than restaurants or so-called ‘food stores’) and 18·2 % in the UES (more numerous than ‘food stores’). Differences also related to street vendors in both the Bronx and the UES. If street vendors and OSBs were not captured, the missed percentages of street segments offering food/drink would be 14·5 % in the Bronx and 21·9 % in the UES.
Of businesses offering food/drink in communities, OSBs and street vendors can represent substantial percentages. Focusing on only ‘food stores’ and restaurants may miss or mischaracterise ‘food deserts’, ‘food swamps’, and food/drink-source disparities between communities.
To assess the accuracy of government inspection records, relative to ground observation, for identifying businesses offering foods/drinks.
Agreement between city and state inspection records v. ground observations at two levels: businesses and street segments. Agreement could be ‘strict’ (by business name, e.g. ‘Rizzo’s’) or ‘lenient’ (by business type, e.g. ‘pizzeria’); using sensitivity and positive predictive value (PPV) for businesses and using sensitivity, PPV, specificity and negative predictive value (NPV) for street segments.
The Bronx and the Upper East Side (UES), New York City, USA.
All food/drink-offering businesses on sampled street segments (n 154 in the Bronx, n 51 in the UES).
By ‘strict’ criteria, sensitivity and PPV of government records for food/drink-offering businesses were 0·37 and 0·57 in the Bronx; 0·58 and 0·60 in the UES. ‘Lenient’ values were 0·40 and 0·62 in the Bronx; 0·60 and 0·62 in the UES. Sensitivity, PPV, specificity and NPV of government records for street segments having food/drink-offering businesses were 0·66, 0·73, 0·84 and 0·79 in the Bronx; 0·79, 0·92, 0·67, and 0·40 in the UES. In both areas, agreement varied by business category: restaurants; ‘food stores’; and government-recognized other storefront businesses (‘gov. OSB’, i.e. dollar stores, gas stations, pharmacies). Additional business categories – ‘other OSB’ (barbers, laundromats, newsstands, etc.) and street vendors – were absent from government records; together, they represented 28·4 % of all food/drink-offering businesses in the Bronx, 22·2 % in the UES (‘other OSB’ and street vendors were sources of both healthful and less-healthful foods/drinks in both areas).
Government records frequently miss or misrepresent businesses offering foods/drinks, suggesting caveats for food-environment assessments using such records.
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