by Meliah Schultzman, Staff Attorney, and Rio Holaday, Policy Analyst at ChangeLab Solutions

In 2013, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) conducted a massive survey of more than 7,300 California stores in all 58 counties, from small corner stores to big-box stores, to analyze the availability of tobacco, alcohol, and food products. This is the first time these products have been analyzed together in the state. Below, we at ChangeLab Solutions take a look at what these data mean for Oakland, and Alameda County, as a whole.

Along with the release of these data, CDPH launched the Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community campaign. California-based tobacco control, nutrition, and alcohol prevention agencies will work together to improve the health of Californians by seeking healthier options in stores across our state.

Throughout California, sugar sweetened beverages, alcohol, and tobacco are being aggressively marketed to individuals in low-income neighborhoods, and to youth.

The related statewide data showed some disheartening numbers:

  • Of the 7,300 stores that carry tobacco products, 27 percent are located within two blocks of a school.
  • Seventy-one percent of stores carry alcohol, while only 37 percent carry low fat or fat free milk.
  • Forty-two percent of stores sell fresh fruits or vegetables, compared to 58 percent of stores that offer sugary drinks near checkout areas.

In our corner of California, the data play out like this:

Tobacco:

  • 298 stores were surveyed, all of which carry tobacco products;
  • Eighty-five percent of those sell little cigars for less than $1; and
  • Thirty-nine percent feature tobacco products near candy at the check-out.

Food:

  • Thirty-five percent carry low- or non-fat milk;
  • Fifty-nine percent feature sugary drinks at the check-out;
  • Thirty-seven percent offer good quality fresh fruits or vegetables.

Alcohol:

  • Sixty-four percent of the stores surveyed sell alcohol;
  • Of stores selling alcohol, 88 percent carry alcopops (products like wine coolers, spiked lemonade, and other flavored malt beverages);
  • Of stores selling alcohol, there is a sizeable disparity between the percentage of stores that sell malt liquor in low-income (90 percent) and non-low-income (75 percent) areas.

The survey also collected data on advertising and marketing activities, which is important because advertising tactics have been shown to have a stronger influence on youth than peer pressure. In general, 65 percent of stores in Alameda County feature unhealthy advertising, while only 17 percent advertise for healthy products. Of stores that sell alcohol, 49 percent feature ads for alcohol within a child’s line of sight or near candy or toy displays.

While the data may seem overwhelming, the statistics can inspire change in your community—this can be as simple as choosing where to shop, asking your neighborhood stores to provide better options, or supporting your local retailers when they improve their stores and the quality of goods they sell.

At ChangeLab Solutions, we support the goals of the Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community campaign. We believe everyone deserves access to stores that offer healthy options.. Our local stores help shape our neighborhoods’ health, economic vitality, quality, and safety. If you’re a community advocate, policy maker, or concerned community member, visit our website for resources on supporting healthy retail initiatives, tobacco control, and obesity prevention.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. 
For guidelines, see oaklandlocal.com/guidelines. For more information on posting to Community Voices, see The word on Oakland Local’s Community Voices posts.

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