About the Atlas

About the Food Environment Atlas

Objectives of the Atlas

Food environment factors—such as store/restaurant proximity, food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, and community characteristics—interact to influence food choices and diet quality. Research has been documenting the complexity of these interactions, but more research is needed to identify causal relationships and effective policy interventions.

The objectives of the Atlas are:

  • to assemble statistics on food environment indicators to stimulate research on the determinants of food choices and diet quality, and

  • to provide a spatial overview of a community's ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so.

What information is included in the Atlas?

The Atlas assembles statistics on three broad categories of food environment factors:

  • Food Choices—Indicators of the community's access to and acquisition of healthy, affordable food, such as: access and proximity to a grocery store; number of food stores and restaurants; expenditures on fast foods; food and nutrition assistance program participation; food prices; food taxes; and availability of local foods.

  • Health and Well-Being—Indicators of the community's success in maintaining healthy diets, such as: food insecurity; diabetes and obesity rates; and physical activity levels.

  • Community Characteristics—Indicators of community characteristics that might influence the food environment, such as: demographic composition; income and poverty; population loss; metro-nonmetro status; natural amenities; and recreation and fitness centers.

The Atlas currently includes more than 280 indicators of the food environment. The year and geographic level of the indicators vary to better accommodate data from a variety of sources. Some indicators are at the county level while others are at the State or regional level. The most recent county-level data are used whenever possible.

See Data Access and Documentation Downloads for a complete list of indicators, definitions, and data sources.

What can users do with the Atlas?

  • Create maps showing the variation in a single indicator across the United States; for example, number of farmers' markets or access to grocery stores across U.S. counties;

  • View all of the county-level indicators for a selected county;

  • Zoom in to specific areas and export or print maps;
  • Download the full dataset in Excel format.

Recommended Citation

Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food Environment Atlas. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-environment-atlas/


The Economic Research Service would like to acknowledge the support it has received from across the Federal Government, academia, and the private sector in compiling the information for the Atlas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided the statistics on obesity, diabetes, and physical activity; the U.S. Census Bureau provided indicators on recreation centers and businesses in County Business Patterns; USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service provided indicators on farmers' markets and food hubs; USDA's Food and Nutrition Service provided information on State-level food and nutrition assistance program participation rates and farm to school activities. The information on State beverage and snack taxes are from the Bridging the Gap Program, University of Illinois at Chicago. The information on food banks are from Feeding America's nationwide network of food banks.