Poster Paper: Geographic Disparity in Availability of Funding to Support School Nutrition Environments: Evidence From Mississippi Schools

Friday, November 8, 2013
West End Ballroom A (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Yunhee Chang and Teresa Carithers, University of Mississippi
The school nutrition environment is an important element of children’s health outcomes. Federal and state governments have increased financial assistance to enhance school nutrition environments in terms of both availability as well as quality of foods provided through schools. However, literature on the health implication of geographic segregation suggests that disparity in built-in school environments persists and can impair equitable provision of quality nutrition throughout the population. The nutrition environment for children growing up in the rural South and in low SES areas was shown to be particularly problematic.

Using school-level survey data collected from the entire school population in the state of Mississippi, this study explores the determinants of availability and utilization of public and private funding by individual schools to improve their nutrition environments. Specifically, this study examines whether utilization of funding is geographically skewed, and whether such disparity is correlated with child nutrition outcomes.

The state of Mississippi provides an appropriate venue for this study because it has shown to have one of the nation’s highest child obesity rates, the heaviest poverty and program dependency, and likely the lowest levels of state budget for school nutrition. Also, the state recently benefited from large-scale private funding with the Nutrition Integrity Statewide Assessment Program, specifically targeted to provide technical and financial assistance to schools wanting to equip healthier cooking facilities. Findings from this study will offer a feasibility test of the American Dietetic Association’s urge for shared responsibility between schools and communities in providing healthy food and beverage to children.

We use the combination of three data sources. First, in-depth telephone interviews were conducted for foodservice directors in all school districts in Mississippi regarding the status of installing advanced kitchen equipment that enables healthier cooking methods (particularly, replacing conventional fryers with advanced combi-oven steamers), source and year of funding, and barriers to replacement. Second, this school-level interview dataset is linked to school profile data provided by the Mississippi Department of Education. The school profile data contain information on school address, enrollment size, grade levels, and racial/ethnic makeup. The third dataset comes from the USDA food atlas, which provides county- and local-level information on the socioeconomic community profile, local obesity rates, and built-in environment outside schools.

This study will map funding availability (by year and source) for school nutrition environment. It will estimate regressions to examine how various characteristics of schools and local areas are associated with utilization of funds by individual schools to install combi-oven steamers. Preliminary findings have shown that initial success stories and collaborative support by state level administration served as a catalyst stimulating expanded numbers of schools across the state to choose to adopt no fried foods policies, schools not receiving grants to find creative funding sources, and schools to choose other methods to not fry foods.