Buy this Article for $7.95

Have a coupon or promotional code? Enter it here:

When you buy this you'll get access to the ePub version, a downloadable PDF, and the ability to print the full article.


  1. Sacks, Jeffrey J. MD, MPH
  2. Brewer, Robert D. MD, MSPH
  3. Mesnick, Jessica MPH
  4. Holt, James B. PhD, MPA
  5. Zhang, Xingyou PhD
  6. Kanny, Dafna PhD
  7. Elder, Randy PhD, MEd
  8. Gruenewald, Paul J. PhD


Context: Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 88 000 deaths in the United States annually and cost the United States $249 billion in 2010. There is strong scientific evidence that regulating alcohol outlet density is an effective intervention for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms, but there is no standard method for measuring this exposure.


Program: We overview the strategies available for measuring outlet density, discuss their advantages and disadvantages, and provide examples of how they can be applied in practice.


Implementation: The 3 main approaches for measuring density are container-based (eg, number of outlets in a county), distance-based (eg, average distance between a college and outlets), and spatial access-based (eg, weighted distance between town center and outlets).


Evaluation: While container-based measures are the simplest to calculate and most intuitive, distance-based or spatial access-based measures are unconstrained by geopolitical boundaries and allow for assessment of clustering (an amplifier of certain alcohol-related harms). Spatial access-based measures can also be adjusted for population size/demographics but are the most resource-intensive to produce.


Discussion: Alcohol outlet density varies widely across and between locations and over time, which is why it is important to measure it. Routine public health surveillance of alcohol outlet density is important to identify problem areas and detect emerging ones. Distance- or spatial access-based measures of alcohol outlet density are more resource-intensive than container-based measures but provide a much more accurate assessment of exposure to alcohol outlets and can be used to assess clustering, which is particularly important when assessing the relationship between density and alcohol-related harms, such as violent crime.