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Community Needs Assessment: California State University of Los Angeles

Jessica Pineda
Johanna Flores
Cristal Alatorre Perez
Sandra Hernandez
Shakti Patel

California State University, Los Angeles

NTRS 418
Spring 2014

According to the American College Health Association, 29.2% of American
college students are now overweight and obese (ACHA, 2011). These numbers are on
the rise as accessibility to unhealthy food options and lack of physical activity surround
students. As the environment can have a huge impact on a students health, it is
imperative to understand the various factors contributing to this problem. One of which
is focusing on college campuses and determining whether or not the food they are
providing is meeting the nutritional needs of students. In this particular assessment,
California State University of Los Angeles campus was the community that was selected
and the target population was students attending this university. There was no nutritional
information gathered on the foods they offered to their students, so data collection was
the primary focus for this research. The purpose of the needs assessment was to identify
factors that may be contributing to obesity by obtaining data on foods sold at this campus.
The overall goal of the assessment was to determine if this campus was fostering an
environment to help reduce obesity rates and find ways for improvement. One of the
three objectives was to determine the nutritional quality of foods sold at the University
Bookstore. Thus, data was to be collected of all the food items and analyzed using
specific nutritional guidelines.

This information would help to understand the

environment that students are exposed on a daily basis and to decide whether or not any
action needs to be taken to bring change in the community.


To fully assess the university, we must take a look at its surrounding areas, which
impact students lives. California State University, Los Angeles is surrounded by

Alhambra, Monterey Park, Downtown Los Angeles, and East Los Angeles. The
university sits on the edge of East Los Angeles. East Los Angeles is home to 126,496
people (U.S. Census, 2010). With an estimated 16,983 people per square mile, this
heavily populated area has many factors that negatively affect the communitys health. A
few of these factors include income level, educational level, as well as the availability of
fresh and healthy food items along with nutrition education.
Only about 45% of the population is a high school graduate and less than 6% have
a Bachelors degree. The median household income was $36,255, with the average
household having 4 members. The prevalent race is Hispanic/Latino, which is 97% of the
population ( U.S. Census, 2010). The majority of the community members speak a
language other than English, which is demonstrated with various advertising in Spanish.
A little over a quarter of the population is below poverty level, which makes paying rent a
priority and food a privilege.
The 2001-2010 Mortality Trends reports that the leading cause of death in this
area is coronary heart disease. Diabetes and Alzheimers Disease also ranked high in
causes for death (Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 2010). Food
availability clearly indicates why these diseases are predominant. A drive down the main
streets of ELA provides insight of the environment that this community faces each day.
From dawn to dusk people are in a rush with little to no time to prepare food. However,
you can grab some food at the local McDonalds, Jack in the Box, 24-hour King Torta,
donut shops, and other small restaurants. Vendors offer chips, corn on the cob with the
option of cheese and mayo, sodas, other fried foods, and on occasion fruit. Food trucks

remain open late, offering: sodas, juices, tacos with tortillas smothered in oil, tortas, rice,
beans, and sometimes chips. Generally, foods offered are not healthy.
However, not everyone shops from these fast foods. Some prefer shopping at the
grocery store and cooking their own food. The local supermarkets include Superior
Grocers, El Super, and many corner markets. Foods offered are fairly economical which
benefits customers with a small budget. However, when it comes to fruits and vegetables,
the markets, especially the small corner markets, have a very small selection in which all
of the good produce with full nutritional value is taken quickly.


The aforementioned information coincides with specific nutrition related
behaviors and health outcomes, some of which are outlined in the Los Angeles County
Department of Public Healths Key Indicators of Health by Service Planning Area. The
report, most recently published in March of 2013, subdivides the county of Los Angeles
into seven separate areas, with the East Los Angeles area being one of them. At the time
of the reports publishing, 24.1% of East Angeleno adults reported their health to be fair
or poor(Key Indicators, 2013). Major nutrition related problems in the area are
summarized in the Health Behaviors and Health Outcomes sections of the report. The
report indicates that the East Los Angeles (ELA) service planning area fares worse than
the other six SPAs with regards to fruit and vegetable consumption, as well as with
regards to the consumption of fast food. Only 12.4% of the ELA adult population reports
that they consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day (Key
Indicators, 2013). Furthermore, 50.6% of adults, and 55.4% of children within the area,
consume fast food at least once a week (Key Indicators, 2013).

Unfortunately, the ELA area does poorly in terms of health outcomes, more so
than the other SPAs, in several areas. 25.7% of children in the 5th, 7th, and 9th grade are
obese with a BMI above the 95th percentile. 30.1% of adults are obese with a BMI over
thirty, and and 40.1% of them are overweight with a BMI between twenty five and thirty.
Diabetes also appears to be a major concern for the community, as 15.1% of the
population is diagnosed with the disease. Mortality resulting from diabetes resides at a
high of 27.5%. (Key Indicators, 2013)
Other nutrition related problems involve cardiovascular disease. The ELA area
houses 28.4% of adults who are diagnosed with hypertension, and a stroke death rate of
45.5% per 100,000. The coronary heart diseases death rate is far more frightening:
178.2% per 100,000 population. (Key Indicators, 2013).


The students of California State University Los Angeles vary in demographics,
however they face similar problems when it comes to nutritious and affordable foods.
California State University, Los Angeles is the home of 20,000 students and more than
20,000 alumni. The high race/ethnicity enrolled in the university are Hispanics with a
47.6% population, followed by a 16.3% of Asian / Pacific Islander population. Gender
population most seen in the University of Los Angeles is by female enrollment with a
60%, and a 40% male population enrollment. With such a great population of students of
all race/ethnicity and gender, the University faces many income, health, and nutritional
problems for those students living on and off-campus.
The total cost of attendance for a student living off-campus is about $24,022 for
the academic year rate. For those living on-campus the cost of attendance is about

$23,533 academic year, and for those that are commuters which are consider living at
home with parents, attendance cost is about $15,610 academic year. As we could see it is
not easy to attend a University especially if the student has low income. Financial Aid
could play a role in many students education, but not everyone qualifies for Financial
assistance forcing the majority of CSULA students to work to continue their education
and or provide for family. This creates a very stressful, busy, and costly lifestyle for many
students, which contributes to their poor health and nutritional status.
Having to juggle between school and work due to low income, to maintain an
education, as mentioned can be stressful and time consuming. Leaving no time for having
to worry about preparing a nice healthy meal for an everyday basis. Attending a
University that contains plenty of fast food options, that are inexpensive is much more
easier than preparing home meals. CSULA campus has a variety of food options such as
Sbarros, El Pollo Loco, Carls Jr., Rice Garden, Johnnys Kitchen, a couple of cafes and
Starbucks. The bookstore contains about 800 different items like salty snacks, easy to
grab and go items, drinks and candy that most students prefer because of low cost. The
school also contains at least one vending machine in every building of the campus, that
contains soft drinks, snacks, candy, and hot drinks. Making them accessible to everyone
without having to walk across the campus. Surrounding the campus we have a couple of
fast food places making it easy and accessible for students that are coming and leaving
the campus. Which include McDonalds at only 0.4 miles away from campus, Burger
King 2.4 miles, KFC 2.4 miles, Jack in the Box 2.8 miles, and the only better fast food
choice would be Subway at a 3.6 mile distance.

For those students in housing meals are offer but all at a cost, making these
students consume all their meals at a fast food location. Preparing their own meals can be
difficult and costly due to the locations of supermarkets. The nearest supermarket is Food
4 Less at a distance of 2.7 miles, followed by Ralphs 3.2 miles, Albertsons 3.4 miles, and
a Farmers Market located in East Los Angeles at a 4.0 mile distance. As shown fast food
locations are much more closer and less expensive than having to shop at Food 4 Less or
Albertsons. Transportation can be a problem to get to these markets, and many students
do not have their own transportation. Making public transportation their alternative, and
CSULA is the home to the first commuter train station on a college campus called the
Metrolink San Bernardino Line. Also accessible to El Monte Busway, Metro lines
(665,71,256) , and neighborhood shuttle services. Having to take public transportation for
grocery shopping can be a challenge, rather than taking the transportation to a fast food


New data was collected of all the food items offered at the University Bookstore
by our research team. A team member created a sketch of the bookstore and coded each
food rack using letters and numbers. In addition, a key was created according to the
code, which indicated the types of items on that specific stand. Next, the codes were
distributed amongst the five group members to begin data collection. Each food item was
written down along with its price and the following nutritional facts: serving size, total
calories, grams of fat, grams of saturated fats, trans fat-free, grams of total sugar and
sodium. In addition, the general context of the placement of the type of food item was
recorded as well. This data was converted into an excel sheet and then analyzed

according to specific nutritional guidelines to determine if the food was to be placed in

the healthy or unhealthy category.


Education and income level are a large factor in the ELA area. With less than half
of the population having a high school degree it is difficult to obtain jobs and increase
earnings, therefore most of these families are faced with daily decisions such as
prioritizing how they will spend their money. The language barrier can affect the
availability of jobs, which also affects the familys income level. This could then deny
access to transportation or education for children; therefore the community repeats the
same cycle. In analyzing the leading diseases it is clear that nutrition education is also
needed. Those diseases are largely affected by factors such as diet, exercise, and other
environmental factors. Health education was rarely heard of. The most common nutrition
education was given to pregnant women or those with a child qualified for WIC.
Healthcare used to be a privilege, but because of the Affordable Care Act it is now a
requirement and everyone qualifies.
In analyzing the availability of foods, it is clear that the grocery stores need to
offer better and fresh produce, as well as lean cuts of meat. Super foods could be
introduced, just as they were in Whole Foods and Fresh & Easy. Markets can give
cooking lessons/demonstrations or flyers with nutrition information and easy recipes.
These flyers and recipes should incorporate the communitys staple food items, therefore
making it easier to accept new items. The communitys diet and preferences will not
change overnight, but a little change is better than no change.


Seeing as how many of California State University Los Angeles students do not
live on campus, they also form a part of this community. The students spend most of their
time on campus, making their education seemed to have no missing gaps. It can be a
problem when students are not well informed of health related problems, and nutritional
problems affecting them, which is why it is also important that they learn gain nutrition
information on campus. This way they take it with them when they go home and when
they are shopping and interacting with other East Los Angeles community members.
They could benefit from having or taking cooking lessons on campus that are fun, fast,
and healthy that contains ingredients such as fruits and vegetables that are inexpensive
and that taste great.
Income status is a major factor to students poor health like obesity, and
nutritional status that is based on fatty foods with low physical activity. The lack of time
to prepare meals and having easy access to a variety of food choices that are fast, ready,
and most of all inexpensive are obstacles that are a challenge to change. It can be a
challenge to also eliminate unhealthy food choices from campus, but adding better
choices will be a slow process but possible. Access to supermarkets needs to be more
available for the community as for the California State University of Los Angeles
community, no access to supermarket effects on the choices a community makes. Which
that takes us back to easy accessible, unhealthy food choices leading back to obesity and
high death rates of heart disease.


After creating an inventory list of all the food items offered at the University
Bookstore, each food option was then analyzed following specific nutritional guidelines.

In order for the food item to be categorized as healthy, it had to meet all of the following
recommendations: 200 calories, 35% total calories from fat, <10% of calories from
saturated fats, trans fat-free, 35% calories from total sugars and 200 mg of sodium.
There was a total of 804 food items recorded of which 768 items were used (excluded
gum & mints) and of those, only 34 made it on the healthy list. Thus, only 4% of the
food options sold at the bookstore were healthy compared to 96% that were unhealthy. In
addition, the placement of the food items wasnt significant when most of the items were
unhealthy; nonetheless, it is still good to note the location of the types of food items. For
example, the chips and candies were located near the registers, which can easily lead
students to make poor last minute decisions. Moreover, as most of the candies were high
in sugar content, chips were high in total fat, placing them both in the unhealthy category.
There were only a few exceptions in both of these groups. Overall, the vast differences
in the amount of healthy versus unhealthy food options suggests the University Bookstore
is not supporting an environment that will help reduce obesity rates in college students.
The majority of beverages are located on the wall facing customers as they wait in
line to pay. The dairy beverages are located on the back wall of the bookstore, adjacent to
the other drinks. There are one hundred-fifteen beverage options, but only nine meet the
healthy criteria. Prices do not vary drastically: between $1.15-$3.79. In comparing the
prices of the healthy versus non-healthy beverages, the healthy drinks were on the
cheaper side: $1.79. Although only 8% of beverages offered are healthy they are offered
at an economical price. (Sandra)

The location of salty snacks takes up at least half of the food and drinks section.
Not by different options of salty snacks, but by various displayed locations, and different
flavors to a single product. Out of 88 to be consider salty snacks and nutritious bars ten
where consider healthy, 6 salty snacks and 4 nutritious bars. There were a couple of items
that did not contained prices, and most of them were to be in the borderline of being
healthy for example Special K chips which were in the healthy group but contained no
price. Pricing for the rest of the healthy items were not as expensive as expected, they
were all at no more than $2.00. The only disadvantage was that most of the healthy items
were not placed in various locations as other unhealthy items, and they were not at eye
level for most. (Johanna)


The two greatest needs in the universitys population is accessibility to healthy
food products on campus and lack of physical activity. To implement a program
intervention one must increase the availability of healthier food options, decrease the
quantities of unhealthy foods, and increase physical activity among the university
Often for students, stopping by the student store to purchase a scantron can easily
transform into adding snacks to their purchase. This choice in action is inevitable when
the chips, sodas, and candy bars adorn the checkout line. The short-term goal of a
program intervention would be to remove those unhealthy snacks and surround the
checkout line with the healthier options the student store presently offers. A longer-term
goal of the program intervention can completely replace the unhealthier options with
healthier items such as fresh fruits or vegetable snacks. Seemingly, the student body will

have more access to a healthy snack and decrease the overall temptation of reaching for
the high-calorie, high sugar snack.
Price is a major factor in the students decision on the meals and snacks they will
consume. Implementing a program to provide healthier options at low cost can increase
the probability to buy this product. Often the unhealthy snacks, such as a bag of chips,
can attract customers because of their low prices and the healthier snacks, such as fruit
cups, are often more expensive. As a short-term goal, finding local fresh produce, an
example is using the produce from CSULAs own garden, can ensure the students of lowcost, and also maintain support from local growers.
Lack of activity and exercise plays a large role in the student bodys poor physical
and nutritional state. Understandably, the high incidences of crime and insecurities,
students residing on or near campus feel unsafe to participate in exercise or have outdoor
activities. Some locations, such as the campus track and field, is often closed or often left
deserted, leaving students with a sense of insecurity. One can implement an exercise
program that can include a safe location, transportation, safety officers, and easy
accessibility to the students. Some locations such as the school track and field, can have
events such as Zumba or aerobics classes scheduled for students to participate.
Adding these programs can increase the access to students and increase participation in
physical activities.
An already existing program intervention is providing nutritional information to
students. There exists free nutrition counseling in the health center for students but
undoubtedly, not many students are aware that they can receive information on their
nutritional concerns. Generating awareness of this existing nutrition aid can increase the

student use of the available programs. A pamphlet providing nutritional information about
the food chable at the health center. This is useful however, not many students can make
use of the program. One can take the information and post it at the individual restaurant
locations for increased visibility to students to influence the students food purchase.


An environment can play a huge role in an individuals health, as

it can either promote healthy behavior or suppress it. As students

spend so much of their time at school, it becomes vital to gain an
understanding of the school setting. At the California State University
of Los Angeles, results concluded that nearly 95% of the foods being
offered at the University Bookstore were unhealthy. As students are
exposed to this toxic environment, their decision to make healthy
choices diminishes quickly.

Thus, creating a healthier atmosphere

would be crucial in combating obesity and other health related issues

in college students. It can start from a small change. For example, the
bookstore can make more nutritious foods available to students or
simply promote them in a way to begin a conversation. It is little
changes like these that can gradually bring forth a mass movement, as
people begin to grasp how closely food is tied to our well-being.

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forefront. Retrieved 06/2, 2014, from
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Office of Health Assessment and
Epidemiology.(2013). Key Indicators of Health by Service Planning Area.
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Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Office of Health Assessment and
Epidemiology. (2013). Mortality in Los Angeles 2010 Leading Causes of Death
and Premature Death with Trends for 2001-2010. Retrieved from
United States Census Bureau. (2010). East Los Angeles CDP, California [Date file].
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