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Children's Health

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Schools Selling Junk Food to Teens

More Than 1 in 3 High Schools Push Junk Food
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 28, 2008 -- Where do teens get junk food? In more than a third of U.S. high schools, the CDC reports.

A 36-state/12-city CDC study shows that in some states, teens find it much easier to get an unhealthy junk food fix. In Utah, for example, more than four out of five high schools sell candy and more than three out of four sell high-fat, salty snacks.

"But progress is being made," says Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health. "We see quite a few states where the number of schools selling junk food in vending machines is very low."

The CDC's 2006 data, alarming as they are, show progress. In a substudy of high schools in 25 states and nine cities, the percentage of high schools selling junk food during lunch periods dropped from 53% in 2004 to about 37% in 2006.

Yet there was no change in the percentage of high schools selling junk food before and after the lunch bell rang.

Why do schools sell food that harms kids' health? Money, Wechsler tells WebMD. Sales from vending machines, canteens, and snack bars come directly to schools without strings attached by state or city school systems.

Faced with increasing financial pressures, schools are tempted to make deals with the junk-food devil. However, the success of some schools should help others resist this temptation.

"In many places, schools are substituting healthier choices and continuing to bring in revenue," Wechsler says. "It shows these changes are possible to make. All states face the same economic challenges that lead schools to make money by selling junk food. This dramatic progress made in states with strong leadership shows the other schools it can be done."

Wechsler says schools that substitute healthy foods for junk foods see a drop in revenue at first but then see revenues climb back up after a year or two.

The CDC notes that by February 2007, 27 states, including 19 of the states in the current report, had adopted more restrictive junk food sales policies for public schools.

The CDC reports the findings in the Aug. 29 issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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