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Focusing on fast food restaurants alone underestimates the relationship between neighborhood deprivation and exposure to fast food in a large rural area

Joseph R Sharkey1*, Cassandra M Johnson1, Wesley R Dean1 and Scott A Horel2

Author Affiliations

1 Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, TX USA

2 Program on GIS and Spatial Statistics, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, TX USA

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Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:10  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-10

Published: 25 January 2011



Individuals and families are relying more on food prepared outside the home as a source for at-home and away-from-home consumption. Restricting the estimation of fast-food access to fast-food restaurants alone may underestimate potential spatial access to fast food.


The study used data from the 2006 Brazos Valley Food Environment Project (BVFEP) and the 2000 U.S. Census Summary File 3 for six rural counties in the Texas Brazos Valley region. BVFEP ground-truthed data included identification and geocoding of all fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets, and grocery stores in study area and on-site assessment of the availability and variety of fast-food lunch/dinner entrées and side dishes. Network distance was calculated from the population-weighted centroid of each census block group to all retail locations that marketed fast food (n = 205 fast-food opportunities).


Spatial access to fast-food opportunities (FFO) was significantly better than to traditional fast-food restaurants (FFR). The median distance to the nearest FFO was 2.7 miles, compared with 4.5 miles to the nearest FFR. Residents of high deprivation neighborhoods had better spatial access to a variety of healthier fast-food entrée and side dish options than residents of low deprivation neighborhoods.


Our analyses revealed that identifying fast-food restaurants as the sole source of fast-food entrées and side dishes underestimated neighborhood exposure to fast food, in terms of both neighborhood proximity and coverage. Potential interventions must consider all retail opportunities for fast food, and not just traditional FFR.