The tool, Your Food Environment Atlas, has been designed for the use of food policy makers, researchers, and the general public. Users can pick from a list of variables, such as proximity to grocery stores, food insecurity, physical activity levels, food taxes, health, and food prices, among others, and apply them to any American state.
The launch comes at a time when obesity and possible public health interventions are high on the public and political agenda, with the recent announcement of Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign that focuses on physical activity and healthy eating to tackle childhood obesity, and taxes on certain foods and drinks being considered in several states.
Launching the online atlas, agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said: "The First Lady has set an aggressive goal of solving childhood obesity within a generation because this epidemic is keeping our children from reaching their potential, and we're going to need new tools, greater collaboration, and new partnerships to address this crisis.
“As we continue working to improve the nutrition of our kids, this new food atlas will be an important tool to help decision makers become more aware of local challenges that impact the overall health and nutrition of the American people in their local communities."
The USDA designed the atlas based on three broad categories: Food choice, health choice and community characteristics. It then breaks these down into 90 separate indicators that can be applied at a state or county level.
Several government agencies contributed to the data apart from the USDA, including the National Institutes of Health; the National Farm-to-School Network; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Your Food Environment Atlas can be accessed here.