An evaluation of edge effects in nutritional accessibility and availability measures: a simulation study

Background This paper addresses the statistical use of accessibility and availability indices and the effect of study boundaries on these measures. The measures are evaluated via an extensive simulation based on cluster models for local outlet density. We define outlet to mean either food retail store (convenience store, supermarket, gas station) or restaurant (limited service or full service restaurants). We designed a simulation whereby a cluster outlet model is assumed in a large study window and an internal subset of that window is constructed. We performed simulations on various criteria including one scenario representing an urban area with 2000 outlets as well as a non-urban area simulated with only 300 outlets. A comparison is made between estimates obtained with the full study area and estimates using only the subset area. This allows the study of the effect of edge censoring on accessibility measures. Results The results suggest that considerable bias is found at the edges of study regions in particular for accessibility measures. Edge effects are smaller for availability measures (when not smoothed) and also for short range accessibility Conclusions It is recommended that any study utilizing these measures should correct for edge effects. The use of edge correction via guard areas is recommended and the avoidance of large range distance-based accessibility measures is also proposed.