New Study Shows Nearly Half of Nation's Youngest Students Can Buy Junk Foods at School

Problem Most Severe in the South, Where Obesity Rates are Highest

A new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine shows that nearly half of U.S. elementary school students could buy unhealthy snacks—such as cookies, cakes and baked goods—outside of school meals during the 2009–10 school year. Schools sold the snacks to students through vending machines, à la carte lines in the cafeteria and school stores.

The researchers also found that unhealthy snack foods were strikingly more prevalent in schools in the South, where obesity rates are the highest in the nation. About 60 percent of public elementary school students in the South could buy sugary snacks outside of school meals, compared with 24 percent of students in the West and 30 percent in the Midwest.

Currently, foods and beverages sold outside of school meals—competitive foods—are virtually exempt from federal regulation. As the authors note, there is now a window of opportunity to improve national standards for competitive foods. In early 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release proposed nutrition standards for all foods and beverages available outside of school meals.