Vending Machines at Schools Impact School Lunch Buying, Study Finds

Summary
This study was performed on schoolchildren to assess if the skipping of school lunches is influenced by the availability of food from vending machines. A survey was conducted on 4,322 students in grades six through eight in public middle schools. It was found that where vending machines were available, 19 percent of the students preferred snacks or beverages to lunch. The factor most responsible for the skipping of school lunches was found to be the availability of beverage vending machines.

Introduction
The prevalence of overweight school children increased by 4.2 percent between the years 2000 and 2008. Childhood obesity is associated with diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and psychological health risks. The school environment has pivotal effects on the food choices of the children and their health behavior. The presence of less-healthy snacks, like those in vending machines, could magnify the consumption of fat and sugar, eventually leading to childhood obesity. There are no studies relating the preference of food from vending machines over the available school lunch. This study was performed to evaluate the prevalence and behavioral predictors of students preferring food from vending machines to cafeteria lunches.

Methodology
* A survey (Florida Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey) was completed by 4,322 school students in grades six through eight from 73 middle schools in Florida.
* The survey assessed whether the students had purchased a snack or beverage from the vending machine instead of lunch during the past five days.
* Other characteristics such as age, race, height and weight, and food preferred or purchased were included in the survey.

Results
* Almost all (99 percent) of the schools had vending machines to purchase snacks and 89 percent of them had a beverage vending machine.
* For more than two days in the previous five days, 18 percent of the participants had purchased snacks or beverages from a vending machine instead of buying school lunch.
* The preference for snacks and beverages over lunch was higher at 19 percent when a beverage vending machine was found in school, as compared to 7 percent when a beverage vending machine was unavailable.
* Other factors influencing the preference of snacks and beverages over lunch were smoking, non-Hispanic black race, Hispanic ethnicity, and older age.

Shortcomings
The survey was self-reported, increasing the potential for bias. Information was omitted in this study on those who brought packed lunches and those enrolled in the free school lunch programs. The total caloric content of food from the vending machines was not estimated. Most of the data on weight and height was not complete.

Conclusion

A significant percentage of the students preferred eating snacks and beverages to lunches from the school cafeteria. The availability of a beverage vending machine at school increased the probability of selecting a snack and beverage “meal” from the vending machines. Factors such as ethnicity, smoking and age were also found to influence the choice of meals. Even with the option of healthier meals, the preferred choices of students were less-healthy snacks and beverages. The authors suggest that school management could decide to “reduce the availability of less-healthy choices in vending machines and to reduce access to beverage vending machines”.

For More Information:
The Impact of the Availability of School Vending Machines on Eating Behavior during Lunch: The Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey
Publication Journal: The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, October 2010
By Sohyun Park, PhD; William M Sappenfield, MD; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Georgia and Florida Department of Health, Tallahassee, Florida
*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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