Date of Award

December 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Member

Devon Gorry

Committee Member

Jorge L Garcia

Committee Member

Scott L Baier


The modified Retail Food Environment Index (mRFEI) is a measurement created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designed to capture the number of healthy and less healthy food retailers in an area. Out of the total number of food retailers in that area considered either healthy or less healthy, the mRFEI represents the healthy percentage. The mRFEI index is commonly used to measure obesity amongst different levels of food access. Rather than simply relying on broad categorizations of food environments, using the raw index gives a more complete picture of the relationship between food availability and obesity. I use the index on the census tract level and control for demographic variables for each census tract. Through the use of cubic regressions, obesity is regressed on the healthful food index and census-tract level control variables. It was discovered that the mRFEI is, in fact, a good indicator of obesity rates, and each food environment corresponds with a different relationship with obesity rates. Additionally, this study further proves that Food Swamps and Food Deserts are intrinsically different and are entirely separate phenomena. While the direction of the relationship between the index and obesity was revealed, future research should aim to pinpoint more in-depth parameters for each food environment. This study identifies the mRFEI as a more in-depth indicator for obesity instead of using broad parameters that classify geographies into Food Deserts and Food Swamps.



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