A scary number of American students are obese or overweight, and it’s easy to think of reasons why. I have heard horror stories of kids who will only eat McDonald’s Happy Meals instead of healthy meals, and elementary schools that feed their students food that has the nutritional value of garbage.
However, something that we might not think of right off the top of our heads is the food that students buy for themselves from vending machines that are found in their school cafeterias. Now, the Obama administration is tackling this culprit in its fight to make children healthier. The administration plans to propose new rules concerning vending machines and the foods that are offered through these devices within the next several weeks. Although the exact rules have not been announced, many health advocates think that these rules will reduce the amounts of fat, salt, and sugar that foods and drinks sold in vending machines can contain.
Vending machines do a surprisingly large amount of business in schools. According to the National Academy of Sciences, more than $2 billion worth of sugary treats and sodas are sold in our nations schools through vending machines. So it makes sense that the industries that profit from these sales – such as candy and soda producers – would not want vending machines to be banned from schools.
Christopher Gindlesperger is the director of communications for the American Beverage Association. Gindlesperger says that companies in his industry, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have already taken steps to make the offerings in school vending machines healthier.
“Our members have voluntarily reduce the calories in drinks shipped to schools by 88 percent and stopped offering full-calorie soft drinks in school vending machines,” he said.
Many vending machines also now offer some healthier options for children, such as trail mixes and dried fruit. Unfortunately, these products are often placed beside unhealthy treats, like candy bars and cookies. A study conducted between 2006 and 2010 found that when students had the option between the healthy and unhealthy foods, snacking behavior did not change, which means kids were still choosing the unhealthy treats.
So what should schools do in order to help kids makes healthy choices? Should they just remove vending machines entirely? Although this seems a little drastic, it might not be a bad idea.
Roger Kipp is the food service director for the Norwood School District in Ohio. In 2010, Kipp took out the vending machines in his schools and replaces them with an area in the school cafeterias where kids could buy healthier snacks, such as fruit, yogurt, and wraps.
“It took a while, but it caught on,” said Kipp. “You have to give the kids time. You can’t replace 16-years of bad eating habits overnight.”