The nutritional intake of schoolchildren is affected not only by what is consumed at school but also by what is available in food outlets near schools. The present study surveys the range of food outlets around schools and examines how the availability of healthy food in the food stores encountered varies by income status of the school and by store participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food assistance programme.
Network buffer zones were created to reflect a quarter-mile (400 m) walk from elementary schools with lower- and higher-income student populations in Oakland, CA, USA. All food outlets within these zones were categorised by type, and audits were conducted within food stores using a checklist to assess for the presence or absence of twenty-eight healthy items (in five domains).
Mid-sized city in the USA.
Food outlets near public elementary schools.
There were considerably more food outlets around lower-income schools. Food stores near higher-income schools had higher scores in two of the five domains (healthy beverages/low-fat dairy and healthy snacks). However, there were more food stores near lower-income schools that accepted WIC vouchers. Stratification showed that WIC stores scored higher than non-WIC stores on four of the five domains.
Although higher-income students have more access to healthy food in the environment surrounding their school, this disparity appears to be mitigated by stores that accept WIC and offer more healthy snacking options. Federal programmes such as this may be particularly valuable for children in lower-income areas.