Measuring Food Environments

A Guide to Available Instruments

Overweight, obesity and other chronic diseases are associated with poor access to healthy eating and physical activity opportunities. Food environments are an important key towards understanding an individual's food-related decisions, consumption and health outcomes.

To help researchers, practitioners and community organizations measure food environments, this article reviews available instruments. By conducting a literature review and interviewing researchers and practitioners, the authors selected instruments that aid in measuring food environments. The instruments were classified using the social-ecological model. They were rated on ease of use, details, resources required and psychometric testing.

The authors identified 48 instruments. Of those identified:

  • Thirty-nine percent were tested for validity or reliability
  • Fifty-two percent provided some level of technical assistance
  • Thirty-seven percent were appropriate for community members
  • The largest category of instrumented developed were observational tools.

The authors found that no one instrument fits all the needs of the researchers, practitioners and community organizations. There is currently a tradeoff between simplicity and low cost, and detail and accuracy. Before selecting an instrument, the authors suggest choosing an instrument based on purpose of assessment, resources and expertise available, validity and reliability, and ease of use.