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Impacts of the choice of distance measurement method on estimates of access to point-based resources



Lack of access to resources such as medical facilities and grocery stores is related to poor health outcomes and inequities, particularly in an environmental justice framework. There can be substantial differences in quantifying “access” to such resources, depending on the geospatial method used to generate distance estimates.


We compared three methods for calculating distance to the nearest grocery store to illustrate differential access at the census block-group level in the Atlanta metropolitan area, including: Euclidean distance estimation, service areas incorporating roadways and other factors, and cost distance for every point on the map.


We found notable differences in access across the three estimation techniques, implying a high potential for exposure misclassification by estimation method. There was a lack of nuanced exposure in the highest- and lowest-access areas using the Euclidean distance method. We found an Intraclass Correlation Coefficient (ICC) of 0.69 (0.65, 0.73), indicating moderate agreement between estimation methods.


As compared with Euclidean distance, service areas and cost distance may represent a more meaningful characterization of “access” to resources. Each method has tradeoffs in computational resources required versus potential improvement in exposure classification. Careful consideration of the method used for determining “access” will reduce subsequent misclassifications.

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Fig. 1: Generation of gridded population estimates, by census block group.
Fig. 2: Illustration of methods for estimating access to the nearest grocery store.
Fig. 3
Fig. 4: Septiles of access to grocery stores in Atlanta at the census block-group level, by access method.
Fig. 5: Change in septile of access to grocery stores in the Atlanta metropolitan area, by access method (1—lowest access, 7—highest access).


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Funding for this work was provided by Sharecare Inc (

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ANS and KS had full access to all the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Concept and design: ANS, KS, and KJL. Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: ANS, KS, and BW. Drafting of the paper: ANS, KS, and KJL. Critical revision of the paper for important intellectual content: All authors. Final approval of version to be published: All authors. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved: All authors.

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Correspondence to Amruta Nori-Sarma.

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Nori-Sarma, A., Spangler, K.R., Wang, B. et al. Impacts of the choice of distance measurement method on estimates of access to point-based resources. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol (2022).

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  • Geospatial analysis
  • Exposure differences
  • Resource access
  • Disparities


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