Categorizing the Food Environment & Defining Measures

Categories of the Food Environment

The food environment may be categorized into seven environments:

  • Food Store Environment: including grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, snack bars, specialty food stores, farmers' markets, bodegas, and food banks.
  • Home Food Environment: including food available within the home.
  • Macro Food Environment: including the food supply.
  • Public Facility Food Environment: including cafeterias, vending machines, and snack shops in recreation centers, health care facilities, and other public venues.
  • Restaurant Food Environment: including fast food and full-service restaurants.
  • School Food Environment: including cafeterias, vending machines, and snack shops in daycare settings, schools, and/or colleges.
  • Worksite Food Environment: including cafeterias, vending machines, and snack shops.

The measures of the food environment can be classified as either instruments or methodologies.


An instrument may take the form of a checklistinventorymarket basket, or interview/questionnaire. Instruments are standardized assessment tools; typically they are paper-based forms completed by subjects themselves or by trained observers. The instruments can be tested for relevant psychometric properties (e.g. reliability and validity), applied to different types of food environments, and modified as needed for specific populations.

  • Checklist: a pre-defined list of indicator foods which are selected based on predetermined criteria, such as those foods that are identified by the researchers as aligning with current dietary guidance. A checklist may be used in food stores, restaurants, schools, or worksites.
  • Interview/questionnaire: a pre-determined list of questions that is administered by a trained interviewer or completed by the respondent via self-report. An interview/questionnaire may be used in food stores, restaurants, schools, or worksites.
  • Inventory: a form for recording all foods available in a given environment. An inventory may be used in food stores, restaurants, schools, or worksites.
  • Market basket: a pre-defined list of foods that represent a range of food choices across a total diet. These foods may be based on foods frequently consumed by the population or may reflect a standardized diet plan like the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Thrifty Food Plan. A market basket is usually used in food stores.

View a compilation of instruments based on the appropriate food environment (i.e., food store, home, restaurant, school, and/or worksite).

Note: Typically, an instrument is linked to peer-reviewed publications that report on its development and/or research that has made use of the measure. In some cases, researchers provided instruments for which peer-reviewed publications were not available at the time this website was created.  To provide the research community with the most up-to-date tools, these emerging instruments were also included; however, we are no longer updating the site with additional publications. Researchers interested in using these emerging instruments are encouraged to contact the authors directly for more information. 


Methodologies include geographic analysismenu analysisnutrient analysissales analysis, and food supply analysis.

  • Food supply analysis: uses macro-level data on food available for consumption at the national level.
  • Geographic analysis: draws data from specific geographic measures; this includes counts of the number of food stores or restaurants within a specific area; the nearest distance to food stores or restaurants; and/or the food type, price, and quality available in food stores or at restaurants within a specific area.
  • Menu analysis: uses information on a menu as the basis for data collection and evaluation.
  • Nutrient analysis: uses nutrient data such as saturated fat, energy, and sodium to evaluate foods available for school lunches, as à la carte foods, and in vending machines.
  • Receipt analysis: uses annotated receipts to assess food purchasing and food supplies.
  • Sales analysis: uses data from sales, cashier receipts, and food service reporting forms to determine availability and patterns of purchase for certain foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables).
  • Universal Product Code (UPC) Scanning: uses barcode scanners to collect data on food products and food supplies.