Feb. 6, 2012 -- About half of elementary school students still have access to sugary snacks and other unhealthy options in school vending machines, according to a new study.
To combat rising childhood obesity rates, the Institute of Medicine recommended in 2007 that school meal programs be the primary source of nutrition in schools and called for limiting access to competitive foods in vending machines and other venues.
Despite these guidelines, researchers found that access to competitive foods did not change much in public or private elementary schools from 2006 to 2010.
More than half of elementary schools students, by 2010, could purchase foods from one or more sources in schools other than the school meal program, such as vending machines, school stores, or snack bars. Sugary foods were available to nearly all children with access to these options. Healthier options were less widely available.
“Because children spend many hours in school, changes are needed to make the school environment healthier by limiting the availability of less healthy food products,” researcher Lindsey R. Turner, PhD, of the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues write in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods sold in schools. Current regulations state that foods of minimal nutritional value cannot be sold in the cafeteria during lunchtime, but they may be sold in vending machines in schools at any time.