Last year, Black co-authored a paper on the distribution of food stores in British Columbia with colleagues from the UBC Department of Sociology (Richard Carpiano and Nathan Lauster) and an undergraduate student from the UBC Department of Geography (Stuart Fleming). The study, which appeared in the April 2011 issue of Health and Place, looked at urban regions across BC and assessed the proximity of food stores from residential addresses in different socio-economic neighbourhoods.
“In the U.S., there is evidence that if you live in a lower income urban neighbourhood, you are likely to have worse access to stores that sell healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. We thought it would turn out to be that way in BC, but it wasn’t the case. Here, we found that higher income neighbourhoods tend to be predominately characterized by single family dwellings, not zoned for commercial uses, like food stores.”
The study found that in BC, dense commercial areas, such as Vancouver’s downtown neighbourhoods, are generally within walking distance to food stores, making them easier for residents to access, unlike many higher income neighbourhoods in which residents need to travel farther distances to shop, often by car.
The public’s access to healthy food has also become a priority for the provincial government, especially within our school system.
“BC has instituted a variety of policy changes in schools, including mandates about what types of food and beverages can (and cannot) be sold in school vending machines and cafeterias, with stricter regulations about banning many junk foods and pop,” said Black. “However, there are questions about what policies and programs would best help support schools and students make healthy choices. Teachers and food service workers have now raised concern since the types of foods now banned in schools are still often easily accessible at fast food restaurants and convenience stores within steps of the school buildings.
Which is where Black comes in. As part of her work with the Think&EatGreen@School project, she will survey kids in grade 7 and 8 on their attitudes about healthy and sustainable eating, and whether their food choices are related to their school or neighbourhood environments. This project has had great support from the Vancouver School Board partners and the LFS Faculty where grad students, faculty members and students in LFS 250 and 350 have helped to design and implement a detailed assessment of the school environment at 21 local schools. We’re learning a lot about the challenges and successes in Vancouver schools.
Black’s research on food practices at school is supported by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).