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85% of Snacks From School Vending Machines are Unhealthy, finds CSPI

A US survey of vending machines in middle schools and high schools finds that 75% of the drinks and 85% of the snacks sold are of poor nutritional value.

A US survey of vending machines in middle schools and high schools finds that 75% of the drinks and 85% of the snacks sold are of poor nutritional value. The study, of 1,420 vending machines in 251 schools, was organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and conducted by 120 volunteers. CSPI contends that all foods sold out of vending machines, school stores, and other venues outside of the official school lunch program should make positive contributions to children’s diets and health.

Soda and low-nutrition snack foods are a key source of excess calories in children’s diets, contribute to overweight and obesity, and displace more nutritious foods. Obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last two decades. Studies show that children’s soft drink intake has increased, and children who drink more soft drinks consume more calories and are more likely to be overweight than kids who drink fewer soft drinks.

The survey "Dispensing junk: how school vending undermines efforts to feed children well" (pdf) examined vending in a wide range of schools in 24 US States. The assessors counted the number of slots in each machine and categorised the contents of each slot using a standard form. The number of slots containing each product was expressed as a percentage of the total number of slots surveyed. CSPI analysed the forms. It categorised foods as healthier and less healthful using nutritional standards for school foods developed by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. Fruit juice with at least 50% real juice, low fat or skimmed milk, diet sodas, low fat crisps, fruit, vegetables, trail mix, cereal bars are examples of healthier foods and drinks. Soda drinks, whole milk, sports drinks, iced tea, lemonade, crisps, sweets, biscuits, cakes and pastries were considered less healthful.

Of the drinks sold in the 13,650 vending-machine slots surveyed, 70% were sugary drinks such as soda, juice drinks with less than 50% juice, iced tea, and "sports" drinks. Of the sodas, only 14% were diet, and only 12% of the drinks available were water. Just 5% of drinks were milk but of those, most (57%) were high-fat whole or 2% milk.

Of the snack foods sold in the machines, candy (42%), chips (25%) and sweet baked goods (13%) accounted for 80% of the options. Of 9,723 snack slots in all the vending machines surveyed, only 26 slots contained fruits or vegetables.

While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets detailed standards for nutrient content and portion sizes for the official school meals, it currently has little authority to regulate foods sold outside those meals, whether in vending machines or a la carte (snack) lines in cafeterias says CSPI. According to CSPI, Congress needs to give USDA more authority to regulate such foods in order to preserve the integrity of the federal school lunch program, in which the federal government invests $8.8 billion a year.

Despite the financial pressures on school systems that lead them to sell junk food in the first place, some schools are voluntarily setting higher nutrition standards for vending machine foods says CSPI. These schools are not experiencing a drop-off in revenue by switching to healthier foods.

Contact: Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1875 Connecticut Ave. N.W. Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20009, USA
Tel: +1 (202) 332-9110
Fax: +1 (202) 265-4954

Article details

  • Date
  • 13 May 2004
  • Subject(s)
  • Awaiting Classification (11)