Out of Balance

A collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project analyzed data on the types of snack foods and beverages sold in secondary schools via vending machines, school stores, and snack bars.

The data set was extracted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) School Health Profiles 2010: Characteristics of Health Programs Among Secondary Schools in Selected U.S. Sites—a biennial assessment that uses surveys of principals and lead health education teachers to measure health policies and practices in secondary schools on a state-by-state basis across the nation. The Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods team analyzed the 2010 Profiles data that focused on one element of the school environment: the availability of snack foods and beverages sold during the school day. 

Key Findings:

  • Nationally, the availability of snack foods in secondary schools varies tremendously from state to state.
  • Under this patchwork of policies, the majority of our nation’s children live in states where less healthy snack food choices are readily available.
  • Overall, the availability of healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables is limited.
  • When states don’t differentiate between more and less healthy snacks, the overall snack food environment suffers.
  • While many secondary schools reduced the availability of less healthy snack foods between 2002 and 2008, progress has since stalled. 

Given these key findings, the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project recommends that the USDA should establish nutrition standards for all snack foods sold regularly on school grounds outside of the school meal programs, and that they should adopt policies and practices that ensure effective implementation of the standards.