Mobile App Data Reveals Prevalence of Urban Food Deserts

– Crowdsourced knowledge from cell apps like Yelp might assist leaders establish meals deserts and information well being coverage, based on a study printed in Frontiers in Public Well being.

The classification of meals deserts, developed by the US Division of Agriculture (USDA), offers a typical for figuring out low-access to healthy food throughout the US. The USDA considers three metrics when figuring out meals deserts: earnings, automobile possession, and distance to the closest grocery store. Nonetheless, researchers famous that there needs to be a extra complete meals entry metric that accounts for extra than simply these three components.

To enhance the accuracy of meals desert areas, researchers from the College of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) examined two extra elements not included by the USDA: entry to public transit and shopper-provided meals pricing gathered from Yelp.

“If a group has few public transportation choices close by, that will contribute to the existence of a meals desert,” said Dr. Dohyeong Kim, affiliate professor of public coverage and political financial system and of geospatial data sciences within the Faculty of Financial, Political and Coverage Sciences at UT Dallas.

“Plus, low-income households nonetheless face restricted entry to wholesome meals if costs are too excessive.”

Researchers analyzed knowledge from Dallas’ 296 census tracts, that are neighborhood-sized geographical areas utilized by authorities companies to gather inhabitants knowledge. 9 census tracts had been recognized as meals deserts primarily based on the USDA’s 2015 knowledge solely. Utilizing 2018 Yelp knowledge alone, researchers recognized 50 census tracts, largely in south Dallas, as meals deserts. Thirty-three census tracts had been overlapped by each knowledge sources.

“Utilizing knowledge from the town of Dallas, we in contrast our outcomes with the 2015 USDA database and found the company wants an up-to-date supply of data on grocery shops,” stated Kim. “The quantity of meals deserts could also be loads bigger than what the USDA says it’s.”

As a result of of the time distinction between the 2 knowledge sources, the group identified that they might not verify which dataset, USDA or Yelp, matches the present state of affairs extra precisely. Additionally they emphasize that Yelp shouldn’t be thought of a alternative for presidency knowledge.

“The USDA knowledge are imagined to be extra exhaustive on the time of knowledge assortment, however the knowledge could also be restricted in reflecting dynamic adjustments in grocery retailer presence over time,” researchers stated.

“Our comparability demonstrated the feasibility of Yelp knowledge as a free and real-time supply of mapping for wholesome meals accessibility, not in its place however as a complement of the USDA knowledge.”

By leveraging crowdsourced, georeferenced knowledge, researchers might complement official authorities knowledge and assist information public health policies.

“Yelp knowledge remains to be incomplete in protection and restricted for huge utility, though it has the potential to be improved sooner or later,” Kim stated. “This research sheds gentle on the necessity for on-the-ground, place-specific commentary within the research of meals deserts, and future research ought to embrace a number of cities to gauge the standard of Yelp knowledge throughout the nation.”

Leaders might additionally use crowdsourced knowledge to assist information different public-health mapping, the group famous.

“This research make clear the necessity for an on-the-ground direct commentary of meals stock to higher interpret the information offered on this research, as a result of the products supplied fluctuate tremendously between nationwide chain grocery shops and small meals retailers. To handle this difficulty of wholesome meals entry on the native degree, place-specific methods have been steered that rely extra on native space sources in describing wholesome meals entry,” researchers concluded. 

“Future work ought to embrace a number of cities throughout the US to reveal the consultant high quality of Yelp knowledge throughout the nation. Furthermore, the strategy used on this research might give steerage to future research, not solely on meals deserts but additionally on different public well being mapping similar to noise mapping and air pollution mapping.”

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