What counts? Adding nuance to retail food environment measurement tools in a Canadian context

Alexa Rae Ferdinands, Jennifer Ann Brown, Charlene C. Nielsen, Candace I.J. Nykiforuk, Kim D. Raine

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective: Limitations of traditional geospatial measures, like the modified Retail Food Environment Index (mRFEI), are well documented. In response, we aimed to: (1) extend existing food environment measures by inductively developing subcategories to increase the granularity of healthy v. less healthy food retailers; (2) establish replicable coding processes and procedures; and (3) demonstrate how a food retailer codebook and database can be used in healthy public policy advocacy. Design: We expanded the mRFEI measure such that ‘healthy’ food retailers included grocery stores, supermarkets, hypermarkets, wholesalers, bulk food stores, produce outlets, butchers, delis, fish and seafood shops, juice/smoothie bars, and fresh and healthy quick-service retailers; and ‘less healthy’ food retailers included fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, coffee shops, dollar stores, pharmacies, bubble tea restaurants, candy stores, frozen dessert restaurants, bakeries, and food trucks. Based on 2021 government food premise licences, we used geographic information systems software to evaluate spatial accessibility of healthy and less healthy food retailers across census tracts and in proximity to schools, calculating differences between the traditional v. expanded mRFEI. Setting: Calgary and Edmonton, Canada. Participants: N/A. Results: Of the 10 828 food retailers geocoded, 26 % were included using traditional mRFEI measures, while 53 % were included using our expanded categorisation. Changes in mean mRFEI across census tracts were minimal, but the healthfulness of food environments surrounding schools significantly decreased. Conclusions: Overall, we show how our mRFEI adaptation, and transparent reporting on its use, can promote more nuanced and comprehensive food environment assessments to better support local research, policy and practice innovations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1326-1337
Number of pages12
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul. 2023


  • Canada
  • Food environment
  • Food retailer
  • GIS
  • Measurement
  • Nutrition
  • Public health
  • mRFEI


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