Evaluating and Comparing Food Enviornment Policies and Resources in U.S. and Mexico School Neighborhoods



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Schools are important environments for health as children spend a majority of their day at school. The increased availability of food resources in school neighborhoods is a growing concern, yet the school neighborhood food environment is understudied. Food environment policies can regulate the development of food resources potentially limiting exposure to unhealthy food resources and promoting access to healthy food resources. However, evaluation of food environment policies in the U.S. and Mexico has been poor, limiting our knowledge of these policies. Cross-country policy comparisons can further increase our knowledge and understanding of food environment policies, yet few cross-country policy comparisons have been conducted. The aims of this study were to evaluate and compare food environment policies in school neighborhoods in Houston, Texas and Guadalajara while simultaneously assessing the food environment in school neighborhoods in both cities. Food environment policies were collected at the county level in four Houston and four Guadalajara counties and coded to determine the food resource types, zoning districts, and provisions allowed in each policy. The school neighborhood food environment was assessed in 16 Houston school neighborhoods and 11 Guadalajara school neighborhoods using the Goods and Services Inventory. Most Houston food environment policies (N=25) allowed for the development of unhealthy food resources, yet few food resources were found in Houston school neighborhoods (M=3.0, SD=9.3). However, the food resources that were found in Houston school neighborhoods were table-service restaurants and convenience stores, which have been negatively associated with diet and weight in children. Few Houston food environment policies promoted the development of healthy food resources, which may explain the lack of supermarkets and grocery stores in all but one Houston school neighborhood. Guadalajara food environment policies (N=41) also allowed for the development of unhealthy food resources, yet Guadalajara had more policies that also promoted the development of healthy food resources compared to Houston. Guadalajara school neighborhoods were saturated with food resources (M=64.4, SD=13.4). While every Guadalajara school neighborhood had at least one supermarket or grocery store, there was high availability of convenience stores, table-service restaurants, and food carts, which were more prevalent in low-socioeconomic neighborhoods. Only one policy in Guadalajara prohibited convenience stores from developing near schools. The lack of food environment policies that specifically addressed schools was a major policy gap in both cities. These findings suggest that food environment policies in Houston should be modified to promote more development of healthy food resources and food environment policies in Guadalajara should be modified to limit the availability of unhealthy resources in school neighborhoods. In order to promote healthy dietary habits in children, the policy and food environment in school neighborhoods must become more supportive of healthy dietary habits.



Food Environment, Childhood Obesity, Policies, Food Resources, Children, Diet