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The Food Around us Matters to our Health

General information

The food around us influences how we eat. This is our “food environment” which is the food that surrounds us in our neighborhoods, in our schools, and in our workplaces. It’s the soda and candy at the grocery store check-out that jumps out at us, while the vegetables and fruits are hidden in the back of the store. It’s the convenience store with easy to buy, chips and candy. And it’s the ice cream carts outside our schools.

Low income communities often don’t have grocery stores. Instead, they have convenience stores that mostly sell junk food, soda, and other unhealthy food and beverages.

Many communities have areas known as “food deserts.” These are whole neighborhoods that are cut off from even one grocery store.

The City of East Palo Alto is an example of a city that has been categorized as a food desert by the US Department of Agriculture. However, since the opening of East Palo Alto Farmer’s Market and a full service grocery store, resident’s access to healthy food has increased dramatically.

Some communities look at the unequal distribution (or locations) of fast food outlets to develop local policies which prohibit adding any new fast food outlets. Cities in San Mateo County have not yet adopted policies to limit the development of new fast food outlets.

In San Mateo County most people have good access to full service grocery stores and/or farmer’s markets. For many, the main issues are the high cost of healthy foods and the fact that unhealthy foods are easier to buy than healthy foods.

What Does the Research Say?

  • In San Mateo County we have 5 unhealthy stores for every 1 healthy store. 
  • Here in San Mateo County, 52% of public elementary schools have a school garden. View a map of all public school gardens in San Mateo County.
  • San Mateo County has 15 community gardens and 25 farmer’s markets.
  • While over 50,000 people in San Mateo County are potentially eligible for California’s version of food stamps called EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) or CalFresh, fewer than 10,000 people in the County participate. Source
  • Nearly 34,000 families participate in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program in San Mateo County which offers vouchers for nutritious foods, nutrition information, and supports and promotes breastfeeding.  The program supports pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children from birth to five years of age.
  • 20,000 students participate in the free and reduced meal program. Source


For Advocates and Policymakers

For Residents