Families and individuals have significantly continued to depend on foods prepared outside their homes as substitutes for foods prepared at homes due to various factors related to economic and social issues, such as costs, convenience, and time. In this context, foods from fast-food restaurants lead to other sources of away-from-home foods. They also tend to be rich in energy, calories, and fat. Such foods are linked to poor diets and the obesity epidemic. Thus, it is imperative to understand individual-level consumption of fast food, food environment, and their impacts on diets and health outcomes. In addition, several studies have established that the food environment landscape in socioeconomically and geographically disadvantaged areas were associated with ease of access and wider coverage or presence of fast-food restaurants and small food stores, such as convenience and corner stores, than to supermarkets, which offer a selection of healthy foods at lower prices.
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This is a review of an article, “Focusing on fast food restaurants alone underestimates the relationship between neighborhood deprivation and exposure to fast food in a large rural area” by Sharkey, Johnson, Dean, and Horel (2011). Specifically, the review focuses on the purpose of the study, literature review, study methods, results, and conclusion.
Purpose of the study
The study investigated three critical elements related to potential access to fast food.
- Potential spatial access to fast-food entrées and side dishes from traditional fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and supermarkets/grocery stores in terms of proximity and coverage in Texas rural area
- The potential spatial access to healthier fast food options
- The relationship between neighborhood deprivation and spatial access to all fast-food opportunities and to fast food opportunities that offer healthier options (Sharkey et al., 2011, p. 11)
The authors clearly indicated the purpose of their study and noted that it was the first study to explore the potential access to fast food and its relationship with the above-identified study objectives.
Sharkey et al. (2011) conducted a thorough review of available literature in their area of investigation and designed a study to respond to the gaps identified in the reviewed literature. They noted that previous studies focused on spatial access to retail grocery stores and the presence of healthier fast food options, fast food restaurants, and retail food stores in socioeconomically disadvantaged locations. The literature review also revealed that previous research had pointed out the link between high calorie and fat contents in fast foods, which led to the widespread obesity epidemic.
Therefore, the study had a good background based on the literature review.
The researchers provided a detailed methodology of their study. For instance, Sharkey et al. (2011) showed that they obtained data from “the 2006 Brazos Valley Food Environment Project (BVFEP) and the 2000 U.S. Census Summary File 3 for six rural counties in the Texas Brazos Valley region” (p. 11).
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The researchers defined the counties based on population density (with over 2,500 people), land area covered, and total population.
They noted that the BVFEP ground-truthed data collection method involved “marking and geocoding all fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets, and grocery stores within areas of the study” (Sharkey et al., 2011, p. 11). The researchers also conducted an on-site evaluation to identify other available types of fast-food entrées and side dishes for lunch and dinner in the study area.
They described the method of data collection as a two-stage approach, which involved investigating participants’ access to fast food, as well as the presence of healthier fast food options in the rural location of the study.
In the first stage, the researchers relied on trained observers, who drove within the study area to identify all locations with fast food options. The second stage involved the formulation of an observational survey instrument. The researchers also tested and administered the instrument in all identified fast food outlets by relying on qualified observers to assess the availability and types of fast food outlets and side dishes and healthier fast food alternatives.
The researchers developed criteria for identifying all fast foods outlets included in the study with detailed descriptions of all signs. Moreover, researchers identified important variables such as neighborhood socioeconomic deprivation, proximity, geographical setting, spatial access to fast food, and coverage in the study with their appropriate characteristics.
The researchers identified the number of fast-food opportunities (n = 205), which they used in the study. They also evaluated the network distance from a single central location to all fast food outlets.
The Institutional Review Board at Texas A&M University approved the study.
Sharkey et al. (2011) used the Release 11 of Stata Statistical Software for all statistical analyses. The P-value (< 0.05) was statistically significant in the study. They also applied descriptive statistics to analyze the presence of different types of healthier foods and side dishes based on the type of fast-food opportunities. In addition, the researchers used “two-way tables of frequency and Fisher’s exact test to compare store types” (Sharkey et al., 2011, p. 13).
This study has a clear methodology, which another researcher can simply follow when conducting a similar study in a different location. The descriptive approach makes the procedures simple to understand.
Results and discussion
From the study results, Sharkey et al. (2011) noted that “spatial access to fast food opportunities (FFO) was significantly better than to traditional fast-food restaurants (FFR) while the median distance to the nearest FFO was 2.7 miles, compared with 4.5 miles to the nearest FFR” (p. 10). In addition, people who stayed at high deprivation locations had better spatial access to different types of healthier fast-food opportunities than people who stayed at low deprivation locations.
The researchers also noted that there was a significant increment in demand for foods prepared from external places other than homes. Fast food was the preferred choice for many residents. It was a leading source of away-from-home consumption and was responsible for high-energy content foods, as well as obesity claims.
While this study filled knowledge gaps in spatial access to fast food from rural neighborhoods and to all retail opportunities for fast-food entrées and side dishes, its findings also supported previous studies, which had focused on urban areas, main fast food outlets, and traditional fast food.
Sharkey et al. (2011) concluded that any attempts to refer to fast-food restaurants as the only source of fast food opportunities failed to account for neighborhood exposure to fast food about proximity and coverage. Therefore, the study implication was that any possible interventions had to account for all retail fast-food opportunities and traditional fast-food restaurants.
Overall, the researchers conducted a thorough study with clearly identified purpose, literature review, methodology, results, and discussion. They were able to develop the research objectives by using gaps, which previous research had omitted. Hence, it was an original contribution, timely for any intervention, and supported with existing evidence and appropriate methodology.
Sharkey, J. R., Johnson, C. M., Dean, W. R., and Horel, S. A. (2011). Focusing on fast food restaurants alone underestimates the relationship between neighborhood deprivation and exposure to fast food in a large rural area. Nutrition Journal, 10(1), 10-23.
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