using google earth to conduct a neighborhood audit: reliability of a virtual audit instrument

Over the last two decades, the impact of community characteristics on health has emerged as an important area of research. Direct observation of neighborhood characteristics using an audit instrument allows researchers to capture many relevant structural characteristics not available from administrative or other secondary data. Yet in-person audits are highly resource intensive and costly. We investigated the reliability of using Google Street View for the purposes of conducting an internet-based neighborhood audit. Our results indicate that a virtual audit instrument can provide reliable indicators of recreational facilities, the local food environment, and general land use at a fraction of the cost of an in-person neighborhood audit. However, caution should be exercised when trying to gather more finely detailed observations.

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