Measuring Food Availability and Access in African-American Communities

 Obesity is a major public health concern in the U.S. As compared to whites, minority populations are disproportionately at risk, with the highest prevalence rates of overweight and obesity occurring among African American women. Although researchers and policymakers argue that environmental approaches have the greatest potential to reverse the rising prevalence of obesity, critical gaps remain in our understanding of the complex mechanisms that underlie the associations between neighborhood food environments and weight status. A major challenge has been the need for reliable and valid measures to assess aspects of the neighborhood food environment that encourage or inhibit healthful eating behaviors and weight management. Investigators have made considerable gains in the development of tools and approaches to measure neighborhood food environments overall, but few studies focus on the specific challenges and issues associated with characterizing neighborhood food environments in communities of color. This paper highlights important considerations for measuring food environments in African-American neighborhoods and their implications for developing programmatic and policy solutions to reduce racial disparities in overweight.