Childhood Obesity is Reaching Epidemic Proportions

In an age when 30% of children are at risk for being overweight or obese, the epidemic of overeating is being compounded. When children and teens are faced not only with bad school lunches, but also with machines spitting out all kinds of junk foods, they don’t stand a chance. Local school boards have to accept whatever the Federal Government sends to them. However, it’s a whole different issue when school boards are paid off by junk food distributors that fill school machines. Vending machines cause childhood obesity because of the food they contain.

Vending Machines are Big Business

About half of the nation’s school districts have contracts with soft drink companies to help fund extracurricular activities. As a result, some school districts receive hundreds of thousands of dollars up front from large corporations just to sign an exclusive contract with a company.

High schools in Arizona reported making $2000 a month from soft drink sales. A school in Michigan made $50,000 in a few months from sales from vending machines. Princeton City School District in Ohio received $136,000 up front from Coca-Cola for a 10-year contract. They receive 40% of all sales ($18,000 last year) from the machines. Several schools in Alabama, through the contracts with soft drink companies and other vendors, took in as much as $100,000 annually; money that pays for things like computers, teacher training and activities for Black History Month. Childhood obesity is very profitable for business and school districts alike.

How Prevalent is Eating and Drinking from Vending Machines?

This is what the National Gallup Youth Survey found:

  • 23% say they eat “a great deal” of junk food in a typical week; 61% say they eat some; 14% eat hardly any; 2% eat none. For this survey, “Junk Food” was defined as food that is convenient but isn’t considered healthy.
  • 67% say they buy junk food or soda from machines at school.
  • 75% of the teens who describe themselves as overweight say they buy junk food or soda at school, compared with 65% of those who feel that they are about right or underweight.

Additionally, a nationwide survey of vending machines in middle and high schools found that 75% of drinks and 85% of snacks sold are high in calories and are of poor nutritional value. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) organized the study of 1,420 machines in 251 schools. From that study, CSPI was able to answer the following questions.

How Many Items Do They Buy?

  • 71% reported buying sugar-sweetened sodas or other beverages
  • 68% bought one to three vending machine items
  • 79% of 141 students bought four or more

What do they Buy?
75% of drinks and 85% of snacks in school vending machines are unhealthy. Three times as many students buy sugar sweetened beverages as compared to any other foods or drinks.

CSPI reported in 2004 that of 9,723 snack slots in all the vending machines surveyed, only 26 slots contained fruits or vegetables. The situation has not improved much since then.

Does Eating Fast Food Affect Vending Machine Use at School?

When students were asked about vending-machine purchases and visits to fast-food restaurants in the preceding week, researchers found the number of items purchased at school vending machines was directly related to the overall number of visits to fast food restaurants outlets.

These findings suggest that school vending machines and fast-food restaurants make independent contributions to total [sugar-sweetened beverage] intake that increase with repeated exposure or use.
— Researcher Jean Wiecha, Ph.D.., of the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues

The CDC also did a study titled The impact of the availability of school vending machines on eating behavior during lunch: the Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey, which yielded similar results.

What Are We Doing To Reduce Vending Machine Usage at Schools?

State by state, the public (through their state legislatures), have begun to revolt against this situation. Arkansas was first to ban elementary school students access to vending machines offering food and soda. California banned vending machine sales of carbonated beverages and replaced them with milk, water, and juice. In 2004, four states enacted laws regarding vending machines in schools out of approximately 70 bills introduced in 25 states. This includes Colorado, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Washington. Currently bills are pending in 28 other states.

Is childhood obesity affecting your family? We can help your child achieve a healthy weight.