Do GIS-derived measures of fast food retailers convey perceived fast food opportunities? Implications for food environment assessment

AbstractPurpose Geographic information systems (GISs) have been used to define fast food availability, with higher availability perhaps promoting poorer quality diets. Alternative measures involve perceptions; however, few studies have examined associations between GIS-derived and perceived measures of the food environment. Methods Telephone surveys of 705 participants within an eight-county region in South Carolina were analyzed using logistic regression to examine relationships between geographic presence of and distance to various types of food retailers and perceived fast food availability. Results The mean distance to the nearest fast food restaurant was 6.1 miles, with 16% of participants having a fast food restaurant within 1 mile of home. The geographic presence of and distance to all food retailer types were significantly associated with perceived availability of fast food in unadjusted models. After adjustment, only the presence of a fast food restaurant or pharmacy was significantly associated with greater odds of higher perceived availability of fast food. Greater odds of lower perceived availability of fast food were observed with the presence of a dollar store and increasing distance to the nearest supermarket or pharmacy. Conclusions Measures of fast food availability, whether objective or perceived, may not be interchangeable. Researchers should carefully decide on the appropriate measurement tool—GIS-derived or perceived—in food environment studies.