Competitive Foods in Schools: Impact on Latino Students

Competitive Foods in Schools: Impact on Latino Students
by Amy Alvig Korth, (608) 265-3232


Latino youth are more likely to be overweight or obese than their white peers and this health disparity is evident in schools.  A research review by Salud America!, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, showcases the body of evidence that suggests that Latino students are more widely exposed to competitive foods in schools and this is contributing to the increased risk of Latino children becoming overweight or obese.

Competitive foods include anything that is sold outside the reimbursable school lunch program which “competes” with this meal.  These foods can include food sold in: school stores, a la carte, vending, snack bars, concessions, and fundraisers.  Foods found in these venues tend to be higher in calories, fat, salt, and sugar and typically offer less than optimal nutritional value.

These are the key results found in the review of the evidence:

  • Latino students have greater access to competitive foods through school stores/snack carts and fast-food than their black or white peers.
  • Latino Students are more likely to purchase unhealthy competitive foods when available.  In one study, 2.2 times more likely than their non-Hispanic white peers.
  • Schools in predominantly Latino communities were more likely to have surrounding environments that contain: fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and liquor stores.
  • Schools with a higher portion of Latino students tend to have weaker competitive food policies.
  • Strong policies that reduce access and address nutrition standards for competitive foods in schools have the potential to positively impact BMI (reduce weight gain) among Latino students.

The collective evidence shows that policies that aim to reduce access to competitive foods need to be strong and consistent in order to be effective, independent of ethnicity.  Public health initiatives that support a healthy school and surrounding environment may be especially beneficial in Latino Communities.

Implications for Extension Educators:
The competitive foods final rules from USDA (released in June 2013) will go into effect in the 2014-2015 school year.  In preparation for these changes, working with schools and communities on local school wellness policies to help establish ways to enforce nutrition standards and address access points (fundraisers, concessions, etc.) is essential for their impending success, especially in communities with higher populations of Latino students.

Beam, CK, Ramirez, AG, Gallion, KJ.  Competitive Foods and Beverages among Latino Students. Salud America!, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,2013.

USDA Competitive Foods Rules Press Release

USDA Smart Snacks Flyer

USDA Competitive Foods Summary Chart


Upcoming webinar:

The second Web Forum in the series on Weight of the Latino Nation will highlight the latest research on the obesity epidemic and the factors impacting Latino communities. Following this overview, presenters will discuss various challenges to addressing the epidemic, and the program and policy actions being undertaken—or still needed—to tackle it.