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International Journal of Health Geographics








Background: Food is not equitably available. Deficiencies and generalizations limit national datasets, food security assessments, and interventions. Additional neighborhood level studies are needed to develop a scalable and transferable process to complement national and internationally comparative data sets with timely, granular, nuanced data. Participatory geographic information systems (PGIS) offer a means to address these issues by digitizing local knowledge.

Methods: The objectives of this study were two-fold: (i) identify granular locations missing from food source and risk datasets and (ii) examine the relation between the spatial, socio-economic, and agency contributors to food security. Twenty-nine subject matter experts from three cities in Southeastern Virginia with backgrounds in food distribution, nutrition management, human services, and associated research engaged in a participatory mapping process.

Results: Results show that publicly available and other national datasets are not inclusive of non-traditional food sources or updated frequently enough to reflect changes associated with closures, expansion, or new programs. Almost 6 percent of food sources were missing from publicly available and national datasets. Food pantries, community gardens and fridges, farmers markets, child and adult care programs, and meals served in community centers and homeless shelters were not well represented. Over 24 km2 of participant identified need was outside United States Department of Agriculture low income, low access areas. Economic, physical, and social barriers to food security were interconnected with transportation limitations. Recommendations address an international call from development agencies, countries, and world regions for intervention methods that include systemic and generational issues with poverty, incorporate non-traditional spaces into food distribution systems, incentivize or regulate healthy food options in stores, improve educational opportunities, increase data sharing.

Conclusions: Leveraging city and regional agency as appropriate to capitalize upon synergistic activities was seen as critical to achieve these goals, particularly for non-traditional partnership building. To address neighborhood scale food security needs in Southeastern Virginia, data collection and assessment should address both environment and utilization issues from consumer and producer perspectives including availability, proximity, accessibility, awareness, affordability, cooking capacity, and preference. The PGIS process utilized to facilitate information sharing about neighborhood level contributors to food insecurity and translate those contributors to intervention strategies through discussion with local subject matter experts and contextualization within larger scale food systems dynamics is transferable.


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The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Data Availability

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article and its supplementary information files – see Table 1:


0000-0003-3623-8849 (Hutton), 0000-0002-5220-0472 (McLeod)

Original Publication Citation

Hutton, N. S., McLeod, G., Allen, T. R., Davis, C., Garnand, A., Richter, H., Chavan, P. P., Hoglund, L., Comess, J., Herman, M., Martin, B., & Romero, C. (2022). Participatory mapping to address neighborhood level data deficiencies for food security assessment in Southeastern Virginia, USA. International Journal of Health Geographics, 21(1), 1-17.