Why is it a problem when catering trucks sell food to students right outside schools?

Our school district was far ahead of the curve in eliminating junk foods sold at schools. SFUSD imposed a high standard for healthy foods starting in 2003. Catering trucks undermine the healthy food policy when they show up at the front door offering the unhealthy foods and beverages that are no longer sold on campuses.

Obesity and its effects are the most devastating health crisis of our children’s generation. Medical professionals expect today’s young people to be the first generation in modern history to live a shorter lifespan than their parents’ generation – entirely because of the effects of obesity. The obesity crisis does its worst damage in low-income African-American and Latino communities, leading to skyrocketing rates of asthma, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular and coronary artery disease, certain cancers, and gallbladder disease. The costs in children’s health and well-being and in public dollars are devastating. Poor nutrition also correlates with lower academic achievement and increased behavioral problems, as documented in many studies.

And when students miss school because of obesity-related illness, or even out of embarrassment at being overweight, it costs the schools money in lost state revenue.

Junk food sold at school has been a powerful contributor to the crisis. Now that our schools have stopped selling junk food, the catering trucks are doing it instead. “Competitive food sales,” a category that includes catering trucks, are a problem recognized in school districts nationwide, and studies have confirmed their negative impacts on students’ health.

In addition, catering trucks compete with the school meals program by draining away money that would otherwise go into providing better food in the school cafeterias. That means the quality of the food in the lunch line suffers. And that impacts the most vulnerable students: the youngest, the poorest, and many disabled students. Those are the students who have no options besides eating the lunch-line meals in the cafeteria.

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On January 23 2007, at the request of the SFUSD Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee, Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Sophie Maxwell introduced an ordinance amending the San Francisco Police Code to prohibit operators of mobile catering vehicles from selling within 1500 feet of a public middle school, junior high school, or high school. The ordinance was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors on March 20, and signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom on March 30th; the police department is required to inform catering truck operators by the end of May that stops on their routes within 1500 feet of public middle and high schools are no longer allowed. In addition, the SF Board Of Education amended the district's Wellness Policy to require Principals and their supervisors to take action, including calling the police, if catering trucks show up at or near their schools.

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Page last updated Tuesday June 21, 2011