Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 429–436 | Cite as

Using Social Media to Identify Sources of Healthy Food in Urban Neighborhoods

  • Iris N. Gomez-Lopez
  • Philippa ClarkeEmail author
  • Alex B. Hill
  • Daniel M. Romero
  • Robert Goodspeed
  • Veronica J. Berrocal
  • V. G. Vinod Vydiswaran
  • Tiffany C. Veinot


An established body of research has used secondary data sources (such as proprietary business databases) to demonstrate the importance of the neighborhood food environment for multiple health outcomes. However, documenting food availability using secondary sources in low-income urban neighborhoods can be particularly challenging since small businesses play a crucial role in food availability. These small businesses are typically underrepresented in national databases, which rely on secondary sources to develop data for marketing purposes. Using social media and other crowdsourced data to account for these smaller businesses holds promise, but the quality of these data remains unknown. This paper compares the quality of full-line grocery store information from Yelp, a crowdsourced content service, to a “ground truth” data set (Detroit Food Map) and a commercially-available dataset (Reference USA) for the greater Detroit area. Results suggest that Yelp is more accurate than Reference USA in identifying healthy food stores in urban areas. Researchers investigating the relationship between the nutrition environment and health may consider Yelp as a reliable and valid source for identifying sources of healthy food in urban environments.


Social media Neighborhood Food sources Grocery stores Yelp Reference USA 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Funding Sources

This study was funded by the University of Michigan Office of Research and the Rackham Graduate School Social Sciences Annual Institute; MCubed; the Alfred P Sloan Foundation Grant Number: 2014-5-05 DS; and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through Grant GBMF3943 University of Michigan.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iris N. Gomez-Lopez
    • 1
  • Philippa Clarke
    • 2
    Email author
  • Alex B. Hill
    • 3
  • Daniel M. Romero
    • 1
  • Robert Goodspeed
    • 4
  • Veronica J. Berrocal
    • 5
  • V. G. Vinod Vydiswaran
    • 1
    • 6
  • Tiffany C. Veinot
    • 1
  1. 1.School of InformationUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Social Research and Department of EpidemiologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Detroit Food Map InitiativeDetroitUSA
  4. 4.Taubman College of Architecture and Urban PlanningUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  5. 5.Department of BiostatisticsUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  6. 6.Department of Learning Health SciencesUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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