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Methods of the Retail Environments Influence on Health: A Methodology

Produce aisle in a grocery store

October 28, 2020

Guest Post Written by Jana Hirsch, PhD, MES

The neighborhood environment such as food stores, medical facilities, and gyms, can impact the health behaviors and outcomes of residents. However, little guidance exists for researchers on how to collect and process data that characterizes these retail locations. This can lead to inconsistent results across research teams or studies. Thus, creating uniform environmental measures of retail can ultimately advance research connecting neighborhood context to health.

Jana Hirsch, PhD, MES, and Gina Lovasi, PhD, from the Urban Health Collaborative and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics describe the methods of the Retail Environment and Cardiovascular Disease (RECVD) project to collect, process, and combine data from multiple sources to characterize the neighborhood environment across the continental U.S for a 25-year period from 1990 through 2014. The national geographic data sources include information on sociodemographics (age, gender, race, household income), green space, public rail transportation, and retail. The methods include a description of the flexible classification system to categorize the 71 million business locations included in the retail data.

The resultant dataset is linked to several national cohort studies (CHS, REGARDS, MDAC) to evaluate the neighborhood environment and health outcomes and can be linked to others. Similarly, the dataset is linked to census tracts and ZIP code tabulation areas to facilitate research on spatial patterns of businesses, including understanding the dynamics of neighborhood.

By creating and sharing these methods, this work promotes new avenues of research previously unattainable. The accessibility of this dataset promotes linkage to other research projects. If you are interested in working with the RECVD retail data, please contact the RECVD project at