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The foodscape: classification and field validation of secondary data sources across urban/rural and socio-economic classifications in England

Amelia A Lake1*, Thomas Burgoine2, Elaine Stamp3 and Rachael Grieve4

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Public Policy and Health, School of Medicine and Health, Wolfson Research Institute Durham University Queen's Campus, Thornaby, Stockton-on-Tees TS17 6BH, UK

2 UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), Box 296, University of Cambridge, Institute of Public Health, Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge CB2 0SR, UK

3 Institute of Health & Society, The Baddiley-Clark Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle NE2 4HH, UK

4 Human Nutrition Research Centre, Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle NE2 4HH, UK

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:37  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-37

Published: 2 April 2012



In recent years, alongside the exponential increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity, there has been a change in the food environment (foodscape). This research focuses on methods used to measure and classify the foodscape. This paper describes the foodscape across urban/rural and socio-economic divides. It examines the validity of a database of food outlets obtained from Local Authority sources (secondary level & desk based), across urban/rural and socio-economic divides by conducting fieldwork (ground-truthing). Additionally this paper tests the efficacy of using a desk based classification system to describe food outlets, compared with ground-truthing.


Six geographically defined study areas were purposively selected within North East England consisting of two Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs; a small administrative geography) each. Lists of food outlets were obtained from relevant Local Authorities (secondary level & desk based) and fieldwork (ground-truthing) was conducted. Food outlets were classified using an existing tool. Positive predictive values (PPVs) and sensitivity analysis was conducted to explore validation of secondary data sources. Agreement between 'desk' and 'field' based classifications of food outlets were assessed.


There were 438 food outlets within all study areas; the urban low socio-economic status (SES) area had the highest number of total outlets (n = 210) and the rural high SES area had the least (n = 19). Differences in the types of outlets across areas were observed. Comparing the Local Authority list to fieldwork across the geographical areas resulted in a range of PPV values obtained; with the highest in urban low SES areas (87%) and the lowest in Rural mixed SES (79%). While sensitivity ranged from 95% in the rural mixed SES area to 60% in the rural low SES area. There were no significant associations between field/desk percentage agreements across any of the divides.


Despite the relatively small number of areas, this work furthers our understanding of the validity of using secondary data sources to identify and classify the foodscape in a variety of geographical settings. While classification of the foodscape using secondary Local Authority food outlet data with information obtained from the internet, is not without its difficulties, desk based classification would be an acceptable alternative to fieldwork, although it should be used with caution.

Foodscape; Food environment; Secondary data; Urban; Rural; Socio-economic status; Ground-truthing; Validation