Vending Healthier Student Bodies
October 15, 2013
It’s the rare school without at least one vending machine dispensing snacks or drinks. While these machines can play an important role in boosting student wellbeing—or even just tide over a hungry kid—too many of them serve up foods filled with fat, sugar, and other unhealthy things.
Fortunately, that’s changing. According to the CDC, the number of school districts prohibiting junk food in vending machines rose from 30 percent to 43 percent between 2006 and 2012. The Department of Agriculture is also on the case with new proposed rules set to take effect in September 2014. These will require foods and drinks sold in school vending machines to meet specific standards limiting the amount of fat, sodium, sugar, and calories in them. These new rules will also mandate the use of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and/or dairy products as dominant ingredients.
This is crucial. Studies show that kids consume up to half of their total daily calories at school. Some 40 percent of all students buy one or more of their snacks at school and 68 percent buy at least one sugary beverage per day. Yet children in states with strong school snack policies gain less weight than those in states without them.
The new USDA standards for schools are a great start towards extending those benefits nationwide, but they’re not perfect. The rules as currently proposed exempt a variety of products and don’t prohibit over-processed school snack selections or those containing artificial ingredients, pesticide residues, dairy hormones, and other undesirable ingredients.
That’s where parents come in. Take the time to hunt down your school’s vending machines to see what’s on offer. If you find unhealthy items, talk to the administration about making changes. If your school has a healthy food committee, get involved and put vending machines on the agenda. If there’s no committee, form one yourself. Engineering the switch is easier than you think—there are companies out there supplying both machines and products that make the nutritional grade.