Child Care Health Dev 2019 Apr 17. Epub 2019 Apr 17.
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia.
Background: The increasing number of convenience and small food stores may be contributing to the rising childhood obesity rate in the United States; however, the literature assessing food environments surrounding elementary schools in this country is relatively limited. This study determines (a) whether the food environments around public elementary schools is of significantly lower quality than those of other areas in the United States and (b) how the quality of the school food environment is associated with local socio-economic factors and geographical components.
Methods: Data for 52,375 public elementary schools as well as 96,652 convenience stores, 65,044 small food stores, and 44,383 supermarkets/grocery stores were obtained from the National Center of Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A two-sample t test was applied to compare the food environment within 0.5-mile buffer around schools and that in the remaining area of each county. A binomial regression model was constructed to examine the impact of socio-economic and geographical factors on unequal food environments.
Results: The food environment within 0.5 mile around schools is of significantly poorer quality than that of the rest of the test area (p < .001). The quality of the food environment around schools is highly associated with such socio-economic factors as median household income (OR = 1.000, p < .01) and percentage of minority population (OR = 0.989, p < .01). Quality also varies geographically, with poorer quality in the Midwest (OR = 0.722, p < .05) and northeast (OR = 0.328, p < .001) than in the south and west and lower quality in metro counties (OR = 0.627, p < .01) than in rural and nonmetro counties.
Conclusion: Our findings stress the importance of awareness for improving food retail environments around elementary schools for the benefit of our children.