Study promoting sale of healthy foods by catering trucks receives national recognition

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October 5, 2012

Desiree Backman, chief prevention officer with the Institute for Population Health Improvement at UC Davis Health System, received a 2012 Best Great Educational Material (GEM) award for a study that showed signs, labeling and promotional apparel can increase the sale of healthful entrees offered at catering trucks serving workers in low-income communities. She received the award at the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior's annual conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this summer. 

The award recognizes authors who produced the best educational materials published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, the society's peer-reviewed journal for disseminating original research, emerging issues and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide.

Desiree Backman - Courtesy photograph
Desiree Backman

Backman conducted the research while working on the Network for a Healthy California project, a collaboration with colleagues at the California Department of Public Health and the Sacramento-based Public Health Institute. Backman and her co-authors were recognized for their innovative study, "Catering Trucks in California Promote Healthful Eating in Low-Wage Worksites," which was published in the journal's July/August 2011 supplement.

For the study, the researchers engaged eight catering truck vendors in San Diego, Calif., to include two healthful entrees as part of their "grab and go" lunch offerings. The items were a turkey, avocado and sprouts sandwich with sliced fresh fruit on the side, and a chicken wrap with sliced fresh fruit on the side. The entrée containers had a clear plastic top with an English- and Spanish-language sticker that stated "Eat Fruits & Vegetables and Be Active!" The same messaging also was posted on a colorful 11 by 17-inch sign in the truck and on employees' t-shirts, hats and aprons.

Based on a five-week study period, the researchers found that point-of-purchase merchandising increased the sale of healthful entrees offered at catering trucks serving workers in low-income communities. The simple signage, unique food packaging and promotional apparel worn by the catering-truck staff sharply increased the sale of the two healthy entrees by 37 percent and 14 percent, respectively. The study provides initial evidence that nutritious foods supported by simple, low-cost merchandising can improve sales and influence the purchasing behavior for healthful items sold at catering trucks. More information about the study is available as a podcast from the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior at

Backman joined the UC Davis Institute for Population Health Improvement in April 2012 to work on the Medi-Cal Quality Improvement Program, which is a collaboration between the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) and UC Davis. In this role, she works with DHCS staff and stakeholders to develop, implement and sustain the department's Quality Strategy, which is a blueprint to improve the health of all Californians and the quality of all DHCS programs, and to reduce the department's per capita health-care costs.

Backman, an authority on nutrition and public health, has directed statewide programs that have improved the diet and physical activity habits of low-income Californians. She has worked with multidisciplinary teams of national, state and local experts to develop, implement, evaluate and sustain award-winning public health programs, including the California 5 a Day--for Better Health! Campaign.  She also has published numerous research articles on cancer prevention, health promotion and the effectiveness of innovative public health interventions.

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