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Kids Choose Junk Food in School

Hamburgers, Cookies, French Fries Are Top Sellers in School Cafeterias

WebMD Health News

Aug. 1, 2005 -- Hamburgers, cookies, and French fries are top sellers at U.S. high schools, despite what's on the menu for lunch.

A new study shows many of the items sold in school cafeterias, vending machines, school stores, and by clubs during the school day are of low nutritional value and may contribute to childhood obesity.

In the first study of so-called "competitive foods" sold in schools, researchers surveyed public high schools in Pennsylvania and found the top-selling categories of a la carte items in cafeterias were:

  • Hamburgers, pizza, and sandwiches
  • Cookies, crackers, cakes, pastries, and other baked goods not low in fat
  • French fries
  • Salty snacks not low in fat
  • Carbonated beverages

In addition, the most popular food items sold in school stores or by school clubs were candy bars and chocolate.

Researchers say the good news is that water and fruit juice were the most commonly sold vending machine items but more than half of schools offer carbonated beverages and sugary soft drinks to students in vending machines.

The results of the study appear in the August issue of Pediatrics.

Top Food Sellers at School

Researchers say 15% of school-aged children are overweight and the diets of adolescents are of lower quality of any other age group.

In an effort to improve students' diets and provide nutritious foods, the government regulates what's sold as part of the national school lunch program. But sales of other foods at school are minimally regulated.

Researchers say school food service directors are put in the position of appealing to students' tastes, which tend to favor foods low in nutritional value, while planning meals that meet U.S. nutritional guidelines. Many of these programs are also required to be financially self-supporting.

The study suggests that a la carte food sales provide a major source of income for schools with sales averaging $700 per day in Pennsylvania high schools, 85% of which receive no financial support from their school districts.

Other results of the study include:

  • Water is the most popular item offered in school vending machines with 72% of schools offering bottled water. But 59% of schools offer carbonated beverages in their vending machines.
  • 67% of school stores sell food items, and the top-selling items were candy bars and other forms of candy.
  • Chocolate candy was the most popular item sold by school clubs during school hours, followed by subs or hoagies and high-fat baked goods.

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