Vending Vicious Cycles: The Overhaul of Public Schools' Vending Machines

Vending Vicious Cycles: The Overhaul of Public Schools' Vending Machines
Could sodas, cookies, and candy finally be banished from school vending machines? Learn about the public schools and movement that are finally swapping carrots for candy.

Vending machines have become a mainstay in many public schools today, but nutrition experts fear that the calorie-laden treats lurking inside could be contributing to our nation's obesity epidemic. Some schools have actually taken action against such temptations by eliminating vending machines entirely, while others are replacing the fare with nutritional options that boast less fat and fewer calories.

Are vending machines in schools a pleasant convenience or a nutritional threat? We will explore this issue to discover the full impact vending machines have on the overall health of our children.

Junk Food Studies

A recent study reported in the Los Angeles Times showed that vending machine purchases in schools added about 253 calories to the diets of the 22% of students who ate them every day. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Food & Nutrition Database Research Inc. of Okemos, Michigan. The data was collected from 2,309 students nationwide, in grades 1-12, and the findings were published in the September issue of the Journal of School Health.

The study also found that the most popular vending machine selections included soda pop, candy, chips, crackers, cookies, cakes and ice cream. Healthier selections were also purchased, including low-fat milk, fruit juice and fruit.

In addition to the added calories, children who snacked regularly from vending machines also added 10 more grams of sugar to their diet every day. The same kids consumed less fiber, iron and B vitamins overall.

The Problem with Obesity

It is a fact that more and more children in this country are becoming obese. According to a report in Minnesota Medicine, one-third of children and adolescents in this country are now considered overweight or obese. Many health risks increase when kids start packing on pounds, including higher incidences of Type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease.

As an obese child reaches adulthood, the individual may experience a decreased quality of life, a higher incidence of illness that could contribute to decreased work productivity, and a shortened life expectancy.

While reasons for the increase in obesity rates are numerous and diverse, addressing these concerns at a variety of levels is the best way to reverse the numbers. Changing the selection in school vending machines is just one piece of the puzzle, but many schools are hoping to inspire kids to adopt healthier habits that will serve them well into adulthood.

Carrots in Ohio

Mason High School in the Edgewood City Schools district is experimenting with a whole new kind of vending machine – one that only dispenses bags of baby carrots for snacking. This carrot machine is part of a national marketing campaign for baby carrots, which is encouraging consumers to "eat 'em like junk food," according to a report in the Middletown Journal. The vending machines can hold up to 300 bags of carrots at one time, and each bag sells for 50 cents.

The machine will remain in the school for two months, and then the popularity of the idea will be assessed. David Jewell, Edgewood's food service director told the Middletown Journal, "I'm going to be seeing and meeting with the foods services director at Mason this Friday. I'll ask about pluses and minuses, and what they've experienced with it so far."

Healthier Machines in Cincinnati

Another Ohio school district is hopping onboard the healthy vending machines bandwagon, although the selections in the Hamilton County machines will be a bit more diverse. This school district has revamped guidelines for what can go into vending machines in schools, limiting calories, fat, sugar, and sodium and portion sizes, according to a report at

Stacy Wegley, Hamilton County Public Health's director of health promotion and education, told that new standards will make it easier for students to make healthier diet choices throughout the day. Wegley said, "We can't offer students cheese fries and broccoli and expect them to pick broccoli. It's simply not going to happen."

NYC Schools Say Goodbye to Snapple

When their five-year contract with Snapple Beverage Group expired this year, New York City public schools seized the opportunity to make some changes in their vending machine selections. Now, vending machines are stocked with flavored water and snacks that contain less than 200 calories, according to a report in The Spectator. The new machines are thus far receiving mixed reviews from students, but many appear to prefer the healthier selections.

Healthier vending machines may be a single step on the road to better health, but it is a step forward, nonetheless. If children begin making healthier snacking a habit, perhaps this country will see a reverse in the growing obesity rate after all.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook @publicschoolreview.

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