The food environment is acknowledged to have an important influence on what populations eat. The retail food environment has been identified as being particularly important as the interface between the food system and the community. This has led to researchers increasingly testing new initiatives to improve the healthiness of retail food environments, often in partnership with retailers. The best outcomes from this research are achieved when feasible initiatives with the potential to impact on the healthiness of the food environment are tested using rigorous methods. When undertaking healthy food retail research, it is crucial to ensure high-quality evidence is available to achieve the best outcomes.

While guides and checklists are available for researchers conducting and reporting on systematic reviews, meta-analyses, clinical trials, cohort studies, case-control and cross-sectional studies, no formal guidance has been available on methods for conducting research focused on healthy food retail initiatives. In response to this, RE-FRESH researchers have developed a series of best practice guides intended to collectively provide a “how-to” guide for every stage of the research process – from engaging with retailers and developing partnerships to co-design, data analysis and research translation.

These guides are designed to support researchers, retailers, policymakers, local governments, advocates, and anyone else involved in planning, conducting, evaluating, or communicating healthy food retail research.

How were the best practice guides developed?

The process for developing these summaries was guided by a Best Practice Working Group (BPWG), including RE-FRESH members interested in improving the methods used when conducting and reporting on healthy food retail research. Fifteen key topics covering the spectrum of research methods in this field were identified, ranging from developing a research agenda to knowledge translation.

A group of RE-FRESH researchers with expertise in each of the topics identified were asked to participate in the development of the guidance documents. Once developed, each summary was peer-reviewed by external international experts to ensure they are based on the best available evidence. The guides are scheduled to be updated every two years to ensure they are based on the most current evidence.

The guides are currently being finalised and will cover:

  1. Developing the research evidence to inform a healthy food retail initiative
  2. Engaging large retailers in healthy food retail initiatives
  3. Conflict of interest and ethical considerations when working with retailers
  4. Working with retailers to co-design healthy food retail initiatives
  5. Defining what is healthy for food retail initiatives
  6. Identifying the factors influencing the implementation of healthy food retail initiatives
  7. Measurement and monitoring of healthy food retail initiatives
  8. Data collection in healthy food retail initiatives
  9. Data analysis in healthy food retail initiatives
  10. Economic evaluation of healthy food retail initiatives
  11. Research to inform policy related to healthy food retail in supermarkets
  12. Working with local governments to create healthier local retail food environments
  13. Working with health care providers and universities to improve healthy food retail
  14. Monitoring and creating healthy online retail food environments
  15. Knowledge translation of healthy food retail initiatives

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