Mobile Food Vending and the After-School Food Environment

Mobile food vendors in urban areas contribute to after-school snacking among children, and should be considered as a component of the school food environment.

Research about childhood obesity has included a focus on the school food environment, but students are also exposed to food on the way to and from school. Low-income and minority children walk and bike to school more frequently than their more affluent counterparts and thus have greater access to fast-food outlets and corner stores. This study observed the after-school food environment in an urban area in order to study the range of vendors encountered near schools and the items sold in the after-school period.

Key Findings:

  • Although there were vendors selling high calorie, low-nutrient foods such as ice cream and candy, there were also vendors that sold nutritious items.
  • Despite the higher cost of fresh fruit, children still were frequent customers of whole and processed fruits and vegetables.
  • Over half of food purchases were made by children without adult involvement.

This study is limited by the fact that it was conducted in a single district of a single city. It found a wide variety of Latino mobile food vendors in a largely Latino district of Oakland, California. The findings indicate that public health interventions that make use of familiar cultural phenomena, such as mobile food vending, may have value in immigrant communities. Future research should explore price-sensitivity of nutritious items at vendors, and whether the presence of vendors causes increased consumption of after-school snacks.