Stores that sell food and beverages in Alameda County and throughout the state are far more likely to sell sugary drinks than low- or non-fat milk, according to a new study from a division of the California Department of Public Health. The study revealed that only 34.9 percent of such stores sell low- or non-fat milk (compared to 37.2 percent statewide), while 59.1 percent sell sugary drinks near their check-out stands (compared to 56.9% statewide).
But that's not the only disturbing details from the new study.
The study also found that in Alameda County 35 percent of stores sell tobacco products near candy at check-out and are near schools (compared to 40.5 percent statewide). And of stores that sell alcohol, a staggering 87.8 percent sell sugary alcoholic drinks known as alcopops (compared to 82.4 percent statewide). A 2011 report by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation found that one in five California high school students drink 5 or more alcoholic drinks in a row per month.
“This survey ... validates that alcopops are widely available along with other harmful products like cigarettes and sugary beverages in most retail stores,” said Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director/CEO of Alcohol Justice. “Alcopops are especially appealing to youth and shockingly available in 56% of all stores in the State of California, while low fat or non-fat milk is only available in 37% of all stores.”
The study was based on information gathered from around the state, and involved 7,393 retail outlets. Survey questions included whether the storefront had healthy or unhealthy exterior advertising, if the store sold e-cigarettes, if the store sold candy, mint, or liquor flavored non-cigarette tobacco products and was located within 1,000 feet of a school, if the store sold sugary drinks at check-out and was located near within 1,000 feet of a school, and if the store sold alcopops, cheap, brightly colored flavored malt beverages that are marketed specifically to youth, like Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. The survey also included questions about the presence of healthy products — namely, what percentage of candy, mint, or liquor flavored non-cigarette tobaccos products were offered versus milk, and what percentage of stores that accept CalFresh also sold “a good selection of good quality fresh fruits and vegetables.”
As some food desert neighborhoods continue to wait for the arrival of a supermarket or grocery store, efforts are being made to better understand the role corner stores could play in improving access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The survey is part of the "Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community" campaign, a statewide collaboration between tobacco use prevention, nutrition and alcohol prevention partners, whose "goal is to improve the health of Californians through changes in community stores and to educate people how in-store product marketing influences consumption of unhealthy products.