Government data v . ground observation for food-environment assessment: businesses missed and misreported by city and state inspection records

Sean C Lucan, Andrew R Maroko, Courtney Abrams, Noemi Rodriguez, Achint N Patel, Ilirjan Gjonbalaj, Clyde B Schechter, Brian Elbel
Public Health Nutrition 2019 November 4, : 1-14

OBJECTIVE: To assess the accuracy of government inspection records, relative to ground observation, for identifying businesses offering foods/drinks.

DESIGN: Agreement between city and state inspection records v. ground observations at two levels: businesses and street segments. Agreement could be 'strict' (by business name, e.g. 'Rizzo's') or 'lenient' (by business type, e.g. 'pizzeria'); using sensitivity and positive predictive value (PPV) for businesses and using sensitivity, PPV, specificity and negative predictive value (NPV) for street segments.

SETTING: The Bronx and the Upper East Side (UES), New York City, USA.

PARTICIPANTS: All food/drink-offering businesses on sampled street segments (n 154 in the Bronx, n 51 in the UES).

RESULTS: By 'strict' criteria, sensitivity and PPV of government records for food/drink-offering businesses were 0·37 and 0·57 in the Bronx; 0·58 and 0·60 in the UES. 'Lenient' values were 0·40 and 0·62 in the Bronx; 0·60 and 0·62 in the UES. Sensitivity, PPV, specificity and NPV of government records for street segments having food/drink-offering businesses were 0·66, 0·73, 0·84 and 0·79 in the Bronx; 0·79, 0·92, 0·67, and 0·40 in the UES. In both areas, agreement varied by business category: restaurants; 'food stores'; and government-recognized other storefront businesses ('gov. OSB', i.e. dollar stores, gas stations, pharmacies). Additional business categories - 'other OSB' (barbers, laundromats, newsstands, etc.) and street vendors - were absent from government records; together, they represented 28·4 % of all food/drink-offering businesses in the Bronx, 22·2 % in the UES ('other OSB' and street vendors were sources of both healthful and less-healthful foods/drinks in both areas).

CONCLUSIONS: Government records frequently miss or misrepresent businesses offering foods/drinks, suggesting caveats for food-environment assessments using such records.

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