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Characterizing the food environment: pitfalls and future directions

  • Anne Vernez Moudon (a1), Adam Drewnowski (a2), Glen E Duncan (a2), Philip M Hurvitz (a3), Brian E Saelens (a4) and Eric Scharnhorst (a5)...



To assess a county population's exposure to different types of food sources reported to affect both diet quality and obesity rates.


Food permit records obtained from the local health department served to establish the full census of food stores and restaurants. Employing prior categorization schemes which classified the relative healthfulness of food sources based on establishment type (i.e. supermarkets v. convenience stores, or full-service v. fast-food restaurants), food establishments were assigned to the healthy, unhealthy or undetermined groups.


King County, WA, USA.


Full census of food sources.


According to all categorization schemes, most food establishments in King County fell into the unhealthy and undetermined groups. Use of the food permit data showed that large stores, which included supermarkets as healthy food establishments, contained a sizeable number of bakery/delis, fish/meat, ethnic and standard quick-service restaurants and coffee shops, all food sources that, when housed in a separate venue or owned by a different business establishment, were classified as either unhealthy or of undetermined value to health.


To fully assess the potential health effects of exposure to the extant food environment, future research would need to establish the health value of foods in many such common establishments as individually owned grocery stores and ethnic food stores and restaurants. Within-venue exposure to foods should also be investigated.

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