Modified ground-truthing: An accurate and cost-effective food environment validation method for town and rural areas

Caitlin Eicher Caspi, Robin Friebur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background: A major concern in food environment research is the lack of accuracy in commercial business listings of food stores, which are convenient and commonly used. Accuracy concerns may be particularly pronounced in rural areas. Ground-truthing or on-site verification has been deemed the necessary standard to validate business listings, but researchers perceive this process to be costly and time-consuming. This study calculated the accuracy and cost of ground-truthing three town/rural areas in Minnesota, USA (an area of 564 miles, or 908 km), and simulated a modified validation process to increase efficiency without comprising accuracy. For traditional ground-truthing, all streets in the study area were driven, while the route and geographic coordinates of food stores were recorded. Results: The process required 1510 miles (2430 km) of driving and 114 staff hours. The ground-truthed list of stores was compared with commercial business listings, which had an average positive predictive value (PPV) of 0.57 and sensitivity of 0.62 across the three sites. Using observations from the field, a modified process was proposed in which only the streets located within central commercial clusters (the 1/8 mile or 200 m buffer around any cluster of 2 stores) would be validated. Modified ground-truthing would have yielded an estimated PPV of 1.00 and sensitivity of 0.95, and would have resulted in a reduction in approximately 88 % of the mileage costs. Conclusions: We conclude that ground-truthing is necessary in town/rural settings. The modified ground-truthing process, with excellent accuracy at a fraction of the costs, suggests a new standard and warrants further evaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number37
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 17 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grant number R25CA163184). The research presented in this paper is that of the authors and does not reflect the official policy of the NIH. Partial article contents were presented at a poster session at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting & Exposition in November 2015. No financial disclosures were reported by the authors of this paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Caspi and Friebur.


  • Accuracy
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Food environment
  • Ground-truthing
  • Validation


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