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Food Environment Index

The Food Environment Index combines two factors that contribute to a healthy food environment: (1) Percent of low-income households that do not live close to a grocery store and (2) Percent of the population who did not have access to a reliable source of food in the last year.

How is food environment index calculated?

The two component measures of food accessibility and affordability are converted to standardized score, averaged, and re-scaled from 0 to 10. A value of 0 represents the least healthy food environment and a value of 10 represents the healthiest food environment.

An individual’s food environment can facilitate both good and poor food choices.

Food environment factors can include store/restaurant proximity, availability of store/restaurant options, community characteristics, prices of food, and food and nutrition assistance programs. All of the factors that go into an individual’s food environment interact in complex ways. Negative food environment characteristics, which include a high number of fast-food restaurants and little access to grocery stores, have been linked to a higher risk of developing diabetes and obesity. Likewise, higher food insecurity is associated with adverse health outcomes, including not just underweight, but also obesity and diabetes.

What are the pros and cons to using the Food Environment Index measure?


  • The food environment provides insight into potential underlying causes for diet-related diseases, such as obesity and diabetes.
  • The Food Environment Index can help identify areas for change, such as agriculture policy, revenue policy, zoning regulations, and nutrition assistance programs.


  • The Food Environment Index does not take into account other factors that can affect food choices such as family structure or community food traditions.

Why use Food Environment Index?

The Food Environment Index incorporates two important determinants of healthy food choice: access to healthful food options and ability to afford healthy food. Another measure, the modified Retail Food Environment Index (mRFEI), represents healthful food outlets (grocery stores and supermarkets) to less healthful food outlets (fast food restaurants, convenience stores), focuses on accessibility but not affordability.

Where can I read more?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. General Food Environment Resources. Updated March 6, 2014. Accessed September 17, 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight and Obesity. Updated March 14, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.

Obesity Prevention Source, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Healthy Food Environment. Updated April 11, 2016. Accessed September 15, 2017


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