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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
Sales of Competitive Foods
Local schools and school education agencies should consider examining policies and practices on the sale of competitive foods and beverages, including those sold in vending machines and as fundraisers. As discussed above, these foods and beverages are often calorie-laden and low in nutrient density. If nutritional standards are developed and implemented for competitive foods and beverages, as recommended in this report, the standards would apply to all food and beverage items sold in the schools, including those sold through vending machines and in fundraising. As seen in states and districts that have already implemented nutritional standards, the result of these standards and policies is that soft drinks and energydense foods are often precluded from being sold. The goal is, of course, a “win-win” situation where sales of healthful foods and beverages in vending machines and other venues would be more healthful for students as well as profitable to schools and school groups.
Current policies vary widely between schools and school districts about how funds are used from the different types of food and beverage sales. Vending machine revenues are often used by school administrators for discretionary budget purposes (Wechsler et al., 2000); examples include purchases of computers, sports equipment, and funding of other school programs and activities that are not funded in the school budget (Nestle, 2000). One of the issues that has been raised is the exclusivity of some schools’ marketing contracts with specific soft drink companies that may include financial and in-kind incentives for the volume of beverages sold (Nestle, 2000; Wechsler et al., 2000).
Food and beverage sales have been used at special events to generate funds needed by student groups, school administrators, and booster clubs to support worthwhile activities such as field trips or the acquisition of uniforms, equipment, or other supplies that are not covered by existing budgets. Schools and school districts should consider adopting policies to discourage the sale of foods and beverages and instead encourage other types of fundraising activities, such as walkathons or fun runs.
Pricing strategies may also be an effective means of promoting the sales of healthful foods, while discouraging sales of high-fat or energy-dense foods and beverages. In an initial pilot study, purchase of fresh fruit and vegetables from à la carte areas in two high schools increased two- to four-fold when prices were reduced by 50 percent (French et al., 1997). In a second study over a 2-year period at 12 high schools and 12 worksites, purchases of more healthful vending machine snacks successively increased when prices of lower fat foods were reduced by 10 percent, 25 percent, and 50 percent compared to prices of the higher fat snacks that were also available (French et al., 2001). Importantly, no significant reduction in