Students Turn Away From Healthy Snacks in School Vending Machines

Snickers may satisfy hunger pangs, but the candy bar doesn't satisfy the nutrition standards of the government's new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law by President Obama in December 2010. Many schools across the United States are now serving healthier meals for lunch and breakfast. What's more, school vending machines have begun to replace potato chips with pita chips. But are kids taking the bait?

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Sugar Overload

Over the past few years, even before President Obama placed his signature on the new bill, schools were seeking ways to cut back on the saturated fats and high calories that kids were getting through foods offered in cafeterias. Addressing an increase in childhood obesity, many schools across the nation began to introduce healthier foods for lunch.

But what of vending machine snacks? As reported by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a 2004 survey of middle- and high-school vending machines across the country showed that 70% of beverages were sugary drinks and 42% of snacks were candy. Only 26 of more than 9,700 slots in the vending machines included in the survey offered any type of fruit or vegetable.

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa said in response to the survey, 'Junk foods in school vending machines compete with, and ultimately undermine, the nutritious meals offered by the federal school lunch program.'

A Tough Sell

So, the war on childhood obesity extended from the lunch tray to the vending machine. But let's be honest: many kids are simply not going to salivate at the sight of carrot sticks.

In a pilot program at Commack High School in Long Island, New York, a vending machine dispensing apple slices, yogurt smoothies and fresh pineapple chunks sold less than one-third of other vending machines in the school cafeteria in September 2011. And baked potato chips, probably the least healthy choice, was the best-selling item.

While fresh pineapple on a push-up stick was the top seller when New York City public schools introduced healthier snacks in vending machines at the start of the 2010 academic year, kids still tended to turn away from the soy crisps in favor of the sweeter cinnamon pita chips or dark chocolate cherry granola bars.

Healthy Vending is Here to Stay

Whether kids like it or not, healthy vending machine fare is a trend that is likely to continue.

Vend Natural has installed more than 400 of its healthier-choice vending machines in schools over the past four years. San Diego-based Fresh Healthy Vending put 800 machines in schools and colleges in 2010 and is currently installing 150 machines each month. And Revolution Foods, which has been creating healthy meals for schools since 2006, has begun to move into the vending machine business.

Under the new law, the U.S. Agriculture Department is required to set national standards when it comes to vending machine fare. These standards must be in place by the end of 2012. So it seems junk food may vanish from school vending machines faster than you can say 'fresh pineapple on a push-up stick.'

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