Public Health Nutrition

HOT TOPIC – Environment, nutrition and sustainability

Measuring the food environment using geographical information systems: a methodological review

Hélène Charreirea1, Romain Caseya2, Paul Salzea3, Chantal Simona2, Basile Chaixa4, Arnaud Banosa3, Dominique Badariottia3, Christiane Webera3 and Jean-Michel Opperta1a5 c1

a1 UMR INSERM U 557/INRA U 1125/CNAM, University Paris 13, CRNH IdF, Bobigny, France

a2 INSERM U 870/INRA U 1235, Human Nutrition Research Center (CRNH Rhône-Alpes), University of Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Oullins, France

a3 ERL 7230, CNRS, Image, Ville, Environnement, University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France

a4 INSERM U 707, Paris, France

a5 Service de Nutrition GH Pitié-Salpêtrière (AP-HP), University Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris, CRNH IdF, Paris, France


Objective Through a literature review, we investigated the geographic information systems (GIS) methods used to define the food environment and the types of spatial measurements they generate.

Design Review study.

Setting Searches were conducted in health science databases, including Medline/Pubmed, PsycINFO, Francis and GeoBase. We included studies using GIS-based measures of the food environment published up to 1 June 2008.

Results Twenty-nine papers were included. Two different spatial approaches were identified. The density approach quantifies the availability of food outlets using the buffer method, kernel density estimation or spatial clustering. The proximity approach assesses the distance to food outlets by measuring distances or travel times. GIS network analysis tools enable the modelling of travel time between referent addresses (home) and food outlets for a given transportation network and mode, and the assumption of travel routing behaviours. Numerous studies combined both approaches to compare food outlet spatial accessibility between different types of neighbourhoods or to investigate relationships between characteristics of the food environment and individual food behaviour.

Conclusions GIS methods provide new approaches for assessing the food environment by modelling spatial accessibility to food outlets. On the basis of the available literature, it appears that only some GIS methods have been used, while other GIS methods combining availability and proximity, such as spatial interaction models, have not yet been applied to this field. Future research would also benefit from a combination of GIS methods with survey approaches to describe both spatial and social food outlet accessibility as important determinants of individual food behaviours.

(Received May 24 2009)

(Accepted February 28 2010)

(Online publication April 21 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email