Hot on the heels of the newly introduced federal guidelines for school meals, the Obama administration is contemplating new rules for vending machines on school properties.
That’s right: the government’s attempt to reduce childhood obesity is moving from the school cafeteria to the vending machines.
Nutritionists say that school vending machines stocked with potato chips, cookies and sugary soft drinks contribute to childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one in every five children is obese.
So it makes sense that the Obama administration is working on setting nutritional standards for foods that children can buy outside the cafeteria. With students eating 19 percent to 50 percent of their daily food at school, the administration says it wants to ensure that what they eat contributes to good health. The proposed rules are expected within the next few weeks.
Around the country, the picture is extremely varied: about half of U.S. states have adopted restrictions, including policies that limit the times or types of competitive foods available for sale in vending machines, cafeterias, and school stores and snack bars. Most states restrict access to competitive foods when school meals are being served. Five states restrict access to vending machines all day long.
But efforts to restrict the food that schoolchildren eat outside the lunchroom have long been controversial.
From The New York Times:
Representatives of the food and beverage industries argue that many of their products contribute to good nutrition and should not be banned. Schools say that overly restrictive rules, which could include banning the candy sold for school fund-raisers, risk the loss of substantial revenue that helps pay for sports, music and arts programs. A study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that about $2.3 billion worth of snack foods and beverages are sold annually in schools nationwide.
No details of the proposed guidelines have been released, but health advocates and snack food and soft drink industry representatives predict that the rules will be similar to those for the government’s school lunch program, which reduced amounts of sugar, salt and fat.
But a study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine released this month shows that despite industry efforts and those of others, snacking behavior among children remains largely unchanged. One reason is that healthier snacks were being offered alongside less nutritious offerings.
Of course, simply providing healthy snacks doesn’t mean that kids will eat them. Maybe that’s where good parenting, and some advice from teachers can play a part.
However, Roger Kipp, food service director for the Norwood school district in Ohio, said children could be persuaded to eat healthy foods and schools could still make a profit. Two years ago, Mr. Kipp eliminated vending machines and school stores in his district and replaced them with an area in the lunchroom where they could buy wraps, fruit or yogurt. Children ate better, and the schools made some money.
What do you think? Is it important for vending machines to sell only non-junk food?
Photo Credit: Julian Bleeker