Influence of Competitive Food and Beverage Policies on Children's Diets and Childhood Obesity

Research Review

Competitive foods is a term used to describe foods and beverages that generally compete with school meal programs. These foods and beverages are sold through vending machines, à la carte cafeteria lines, school stores and other venues.

This issue brief highlights the emerging evidence about the influence of competitive food and beverage policies on children’s diets and childhood obesity.

Key Findings:

  • Children and adolescents consume more than 35 percent of their daily calories at schools.
  • Strong policies restricting or prohibiting the sale of unhealthy competitive foods and drinks in schools are associated with lower proportions of overweight or obese students, or lower rates of increase in student BMI. These policies may also boost school food service revenues through increased participation.
  • Research suggests that when schools provide easy access to unhealthy foods and beverages, students consume more.

Given the high rates of obesity among children and adolescents nationwide, it is important to understand how competitive foods and beverages are sold and consumed by students in school, as well as to identify effective strategies at the federal, state, and school district level for improving the nutritional quality of those products.

This research review, developed jointly by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Healthy Eating Research and Bridging the Gap programs, examines the emerging evidence about the influence of competitive food and beverage policies on children’s diets and childhood obesity. The review also discusses the policy implications of the published studies and identifies areas for future research.

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