Comparing the accuracy of food outlet datasets in an urban environment

Michelle S. Wong, Jennifer M. Peyton, Timothy M. Shields, Frank C. Curriero, Kimberly A. Gudzune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies that investigate the relationship between the retail food environment and health outcomes often use geospatial datasets. Prior studies have identified challenges of using the most common data sources. Retail food environment datasets created through academic-government partnership present an alternative, but their validity (retail existence, type, location) has not been assessed yet. In our study, we used ground-truth data to compare the validity of two datasets, a 2015 commercial dataset (InfoUSA) and data collected from 2012 to 2014 through the Maryland Food Systems Mapping Project (MFSMP), an academic-government partnership, on the retail food environment in two low-income, inner city neighbourhoods in Baltimore City. We compared sensitivity and positive predictive value (PPV) of the commercial and academic-government partnership data to ground-truth data for two broad categories of unhealthy food retailers: small food retailers and quick-service restaurants. Ground-truth data was collected in 2015 and analysed in 2016. Compared to the ground-truth data, MFSMP and InfoUSA generally had similar sensitivity that was greater than 85%. MFSMP had higher PPV compared to InfoUSA for both small food retailers (MFSMP: 56.3% vs InfoUSA: 40.7%) and quick-service restaurants (MFSMP: 58.6% vs InfoUSA: 36.4%). We conclude that data from academic-government partnerships like MFSMP might be an attractive alternative option and improvement to relying only on commercial data. Other research institutes or cities might consider efforts to create and maintain such an environmental dataset. Even if these datasets cannot be updated on an annual basis, they are likely more accurate than commercial data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number546
JournalGeospatial Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017


  • Geographic information systems
  • Retail food environment
  • Urban food environment
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health(social science)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Health Policy

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