Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Mapping the Food Environment

About this time last year, the city of Washington, DC was digging out from a record amount of snow.  My colleagues at USDA’s Economic Research Service were communicating electronically to get a new web-based mapping tool – the Food Environment Atlas – up and running. This online tool, which measures a community’s food-choice landscape, was to play a key role in the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign against childhood obesity.

The Food Environment Atlas dovetailed neatly with the obesity initiative: the Atlas allows users to compare the food environment among U.S. counties—the mix of factors that together influence food choices, diet quality, and general fitness among residents. The media took notice, and in that first year the Atlas website received over 100,000 visits – becoming one of the most popular of USDA’s data products.

Today we’re unveiling an update of the Atlas. It now pulls together 168 indicators of the food environment (up from the original 90), measuring factors like availability and type of restaurants and food stores, food prices, socioeconomic characteristics, and health outcomes. We’ve added items that measure change over time, and several indicators that will make the Atlas more useful in gauging residents’ food accessibility in rural communities. The updated Atlas provides data on the number and percentage of a county’s households that are low income or that do not own a car, and that also live more than 10 miles from a grocery store. For rural areas, this a more realistic measure of food access than the one-mile measure in the original Atlas.

The snowstorm that coincided with last year’s debut of the Food Atlas, with power outages, impassable streets, and the consequent interruption of easy access to food stores and establishment, underscored the importance of the food environment to the options that can make the difference between healthy and unhealthy diets. For some households, limited options are a daily reality, not just a weather-related inconvenience.

With the Atlas, researchers, policymakers, media, and other users can create maps and visualize how counties are faring in providing healthful food environments. For any one county, they can obtain data on any or all of the 168 indicators. We hope that the Atlas will continue to stimulate research and provide a resource for policymakers as they address the connection between the food environment and the health of communities.

I invite you to visit and use the Atlas here.

Map in Food Environmental Atlas web tool displaying results of user’s query on indicators of food access in counties across the United States

Map in Food Environmental Atlas web tool displaying results of user’s query on indicators of food access in counties across the United States

Home page of online mapping tool, the Food Environment Atlas

Home page of online mapping tool, the Food Environment Atlas

One Response to “Mapping the Food Environment”

  1. vikram acharya says:

    Excellent overview, it pointed me out something I didn’t realize before. I should encourage for your wonderful work. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. Thank you for sharing this information US.

Leave a Reply