A cross-sectional description of mobile food vendors and the foods they serve: Potential partners in delivering healthier food-away-from-home choices

Melissa M. Reznar, Katherine Brennecke, Jamie Eathorne, Joel Gittelsohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Food away from home (FAFH) in the US is associated with adverse health outcomes, and food dollars spent on FAFH continues to increase. FAFH studies have typically focused on restaurants and carryout establishments, but mobile food vendors - popularly known in the US as food trucks - have become more numerous and are an understudied segment of FAFH. The objective of this study was to assess mobile food vendors, their attitudes toward health and nutrition, and the foods they serve. Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of 41 mobile food vendors in Michigan, US. The survey contained questions about food and nutrition attitudes, such as barriers to putting healthy items on menus and perceived agreement with healthy food preparation practices. Participants were classified into a healthy and a less healthy attitude group based on whether they believed healthy menu items could be successful or not. In addition, participant menus were collected and analyzed according to whether menu items were healthy, moderately healthy, or unhealthy. Descriptive, univariate, and bivariate analyses were conducted. Results: Two-thirds of the participants felt that healthy menu items could be successful, and yet taste and value were the most important menu item success factors, each rated as important by 100% of the participants. Low consumer demand was the biggest barrier to putting healthy items on the menu (76%) whereas lack of chef interest (29%) and need for special training (24%) were the smallest. 72% of the vendors offered at least one healthy menu item, but only 20% of all reviewed menu items were healthy overall. There was no difference in the proportion of menu items that were healthy when comparing those with healthy attitudes (23% of menu items healthy) to those less healthy attitudes (17% of menu items healthy, p = 0.349). Conclusions: Mobile food vendors had positive views about putting healthy items on menus. However, a low proportion of menu items were classified as healthy. This suggests that mobile food vendors are promising potential public health partners in improving the health profile of FAFH, but that education of vendors is needed to ensure the success of healthier items.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number744
JournalBMC public health
Volume19
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 13 2019

Keywords

  • Food environment
  • Food retail
  • Food trucks
  • Foods away from home
  • Healthy foods
  • Mobile food vendors
  • Obesity prevention
  • Prepared foods
  • Restaurants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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