Researchers use mobile app data to identify urban food deserts

Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas), USA used crowdsourced data from mobile apps, such as Yelp, to identify urban food deserts, in hope of guiding public health policies. In addition to crowdsourced data and access to public transportation, researchers used three metrics that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) employs when identifying food deserts: income, car ownership, and distance to the nearest supermarket. While 9 census tracts in Dallas out of the city’s 296 census tracts were identified as food deserts based on the USDA’s data in 2015; 50 census tracts were identified as such when researchers used Yelp data from 2018. The finding points to the potential of crowdsourced and geo-referenced data, which could complement the USDA’s data to develop public health policies.