Disparities in the food environments of New York City public schools

Am J Prev Med. 2010 Sep;39(3):195-202. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2010.05.004.


Background: Studies of the food environment near schools have focused on fast food. Research is needed that describes patterns of exposure to a broader range of food outlet types and that examines the influence of neighborhood built environments.

Purpose: Using data for New York City, this paper describes the prevalence of five different food outlet types near schools, examines disparities by economic status and race/ethnicity in access to these food outlets, and evaluates the extent to which these disparities are explained by the built environment surrounding the school.

Methods: National chain and local fast-food restaurants, pizzerias, small grocery stores ("bodegas"), and convenience stores within 400 m of public schools in New York City were identified by matching 2005 Dun & Bradstreet data to 2006-2007 school locations. Associations of student poverty and race/ethnicity with food outlet density, adjusted for school level, population density, commercial zoning, and public transit access, were evaluated in 2009 using negative binomial regression.

Results: New York City's public school students have high levels of access to unhealthy food near their schools: 92.9% of students had a bodega within 400 m, and pizzerias (70.6%); convenience stores (48.9%); national chain restaurants (43.2%); and local fast-food restaurants (33.9%) were also prevalent within 400 m. Racial/ethnic minority and low-income students were more likely to attend schools with unhealthy food outlets nearby. Bodegas were the most common source of unhealthy food, with an average of nearly ten bodegas within 400 m, and were more prevalent near schools attended by low-income and racial/ethnic minority students; this was the only association that remained significant after adjustment for school and built-environment characteristics.

Conclusions: Nearly all New York City public school students have access to inexpensive, energy-dense foods within a 5-minute walk of school. Low-income and Hispanic students had the highest level of exposure to the food outlets studied here.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Binomial Distribution
  • Commerce / statistics & numerical data
  • Data Collection
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Fast Foods / statistics & numerical data
  • Food Supply / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • New York City
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Restaurants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Schools
  • Socioeconomic Factors