Food Sales Outlets, Food Availability, and the Extent of Nutrition Policy Implementation in Schools in British Columbia

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ABSTRACT

Background: The purpose of this study was to determine the number and types of different food sales outlets, the types of foods offered for sale in all school food outlets, and the extent of nutrition policy implementation in schools in British Columbia. We also directly measured the number and types of snack foods available for sale in each vending machine at each school.

Methods: Based on a thorough literature review and guided by an expert panel of nutritionists, we developed an instrument to measure the quantity and types of foods offered for sale in vending machines, the types of food for sale in all school food outlets, and the extent of nutrition policy development.

Results: The survey response rate was approximately 70%. Approximately 60% of surveyed schools had a permanent food sales outlet. Snack and beverage vending machines were most common in secondary schools, while tuck shops and food-based fundraisers were more common in elementary schools. While few snack vending machines were present in elementary schools, tuck shops stocked items commonly found in snack machines. Approximately 25% of schools had a formal group responsible for nutrition. These schools were more likely to have nutrition policies in place.

Conclusion: "Junk" foods were widely available in elementary, middle, and secondary schools through a variety of outlets. Although snack machines are virtually absent in elementary schools, tuck shops and school fundraisers sell foods usually found in snack machines, largely cancelling the positive effect of the absence of snack machines in these schools. Schools with a group responsible for nutrition appear to have a positive impact on nutrition policy implementation.

MeSH terms: British Columbia; food; nutrition policy; schools; vending machines

Several studies indicate that children on average consume one third of their daily food intake at school.1 Schools are an ideal venue to promote healthy eating to help reverse trends of increasing obesity and type 2 diabetes among youth.2-4 Nonetheless, many schools sell food of low nutritional value to their students.

To develop public health nutrition policies to improve childhood nutrition, it is essential to know the extent and quality of food available in schools as well as the extent of development of policies which promote healthy eating among students. The purpose of this study was to determine the number and types of different food sales outlets, the types of foods offered for sale in all school food outlets, and the extent of nutrition policy implementation in schools in British Columbia. We also directly measured the number and types of snack foods available for sale in each vending machine at each school.

METHODS

Survey instrument

A literature search was undertaken in order to identify any instruments that assess the type and extent of food sales and nutrition policy implementation in schools. Existing validated questionnaires5-10 were used as a framework to develop a survey instrument. The instrument was reviewed by a steering committee consisting of leading BC nutritionists and pilot tested in several schools. It was not further tested for reliability or validity.

The instrument was designed to elicit information about the number and type of outlets where foods and beverages were sold in schools, their accessibility, the types and quality of foods sold, and the exact number and type of food item offered for sale in school vending machines. Respondents indicated whether or not a school committee was in place to promote healthy eating at the school and whether specific types of nutrition policies were in place or being planned at the school. In the spring of 2005, survey instruments were mailed via the Ministry of Education to the superintendents of BC's 60 school districts, who sent the instrument to each school principal in their district for completion.

The permanent food sales outlets assessed by the instrument were snack and beverage vending machines, tuck shops and cafeterias. …