A Closer Look at Competitive Foods in Schools
A survey of 228 Pennsylvania high schools found bottled water and fruit juice are available in more schools' vending machines than any other food or drink item. Also, according to the survey, the top-selling a la carte food items are hamburgers, pizza and sandwiches.
The schools were selected randomly to measure the extent of their "competitive food sales." Competitive foods refers to choices from sources such as vending machines, snack bars and fundraisers that are available in school other than traditional lunch and breakfast programs. Since most competitive foods are minimally regulated, especially compared to school meals, much less is known about their sale and availability.
According to the survey of school foodservice directors, conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 71.5 percent of the schools offer water in their vending machines and 67.4 percent offer fruit juice, suggesting schools are making an effort to "make more-nourishing beverage options available to students."
The top-selling a la carte items in the schools were:
1) Hamburgers, pizza and sandwiches (77.1 percent listed in the five top-selling items)
2) Cookies, crackers, cakes, pastries and other baked goods not low in fat (68.3 percent)
3) French fries (52.4 percent)
4) Salty snacks not low in fat (44.9 percent)
5) Carbonated beverages (42.3 percent)
6) Water (36.6 percent)
7) Ice cream or frozen yogurt not low in fat (36.1 percent)
The researchers also found:
- Nearly 60 percent of the schools reported selling carbonated beverages through vending machines.
- In the 67 schools where school stores sold food items, the top-selling items were candy bars and other forms of candy.
The survey reported a la carte sales provide an average of about $700 per day to the schools' foodservice programs, "almost 85 percent of which receive no financial support from their school districts."
"Competitive food sales appear to be providing needed funding for the schools and school foodservice programs, as other funding sources are decreasing," the researchers write. "Although it has not been determined if there is a relationship between public funding for education or foodservice and the sale of competitive foods, decisions will need to be made that balance the schools' ongoing need for funding with the nutritional needs of students."
The authors add that "additional research is needed to determine the factors associated with competitive food sales, including local school policies, state funding, pricing structures, and timing of lunch periods; as well as the effect of competitive food sales on participation in school lunch. "
The Journal of the American Dietetic Association is the official research publication of the American Dietetic Association and is the premier peer-reviewed journal in the field of nutrition and dietetics. With nearly 65,000 members, the American Dietetic Association is the nation's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. Based in Chicago, ADA serves the public by promoting optimal nutrition, health and well-being. Visit ADA at www.eatright.org.