Using social media to assess the consumer nutrition environment: comparing Yelp reviews with a direct observation audit instrument for grocery stores


To examine the feasibility of using social media to assess the consumer nutrition environment by comparing sentiment expressed in Yelp reviews with information obtained from a direct observation audit instrument for grocery stores.


Trained raters used the Nutrition Environment Measures Survey in Stores (NEMS-S) in 100 grocery stores from July 2015 to March 2016. Yelp reviews were available for sixty-nine of these stores and were retrieved in February 2017 using the Yelp Application Program Interface. A sentiment analysis was conducted to quantify the perceptions of the consumer nutrition environment in the review text. Pearson correlation coefficients (ρ) were used to compare NEMS-S scores with Yelp review text on food availability, quality, price and shopping experience.


Detroit, Michigan, USA.




Yelp reviews contained more comments about food availability and the overall shopping experience than food price and food quality. Negative sentiment about food prices in Yelp review text and the number of dollar signs on Yelp were positively correlated with observed food prices in stores (ρ=0·413 and 0·462, respectively). Stores with greater food availability were rated as more expensive on Yelp. Other aspects of the food store environment (e.g. overall quality and shopping experience) were captured only in Yelp.


While Yelp cannot replace in-person audits for collecting detailed information on the availability, quality and cost of specific food items, Yelp holds promise as a cost-effective means to gather information on the overall cost, quality and experience of food stores, which may be relevant for nutrition outcomes.