ALBANY -- New York State comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is taking aim at vending machines in schools. Citing a recently released audit, the comptroller is claiming that the continued availability of "junk food" in vending machines is undermining the state's battle against childhood obesity. He also said school districts are meeting federal nutritional standards for their school lunch programs.
This audit is part of a series that DiNapoli has performed to study childhood obesity in New York. In December 2008, the comptroller released a statewide appraisal that found 19 of 20 school districts did not provide physical education as required by law. In June, he released an audit that found "junk food" is routinely sold in New York City schools.
DiNapoli said the latest audit shows that 191 out of 200 vending machine items tested did not meet the suggested guidelines of the Institute of Medicine.
"School vending machines filled with junk food, candy and soda are not the best way to fight childhood obesity," he said. "Allowing school districts to set their own guidelines for what type of food is sold in vending machines clearly isn't working. The State Education Department has missed an opportunity to help reduce the state's childhood obesity epidemic."
Auditors found that all of the 20 school districts examined had adopted required wellness policies and provide school lunch programs that meet National School Lunch Program guidelines. Additionally, 16 of the 20 school districts had active nutrition advisory committees, which were generally found to be helpful. However, the State Education Department allows school districts to set their own guidelines for foods and beverages sold outside of the school lunch program, known as competitive products. The regulations only restrict when some competitive foods may be sold during the school day (after the last lunch period).
DiNapoli's assessment found that four districts did not develop any guidelines for competitive foods and beverages. Of the 16 districts that had guidelines, only four were in compliance; the remaining 12 offered foods that did not meet their own guidelines. In examining a sample of 160 competitive food items sold in the 16 schools that had guidelines, auditors found that only 109 items (about 68%) met the districts' guidelines. In addition, two districts did not comply with State Education Department regulations by allowing the operation of vending machines selling candy prior to the end of the last scheduled lunch period.
The audit also compared the districts' competitive food and beverage offerings to the guidelines adopted by the Institute of Medicine. Auditors found that the school districts' competitive foods and beverages met the IOM guidelines in only nine of the 200 items tested (about 5%).
The audit made eight recommendations for school districts to work with the education department to improve wellness policies, reduce the amount of "junk food" available to students and to adopt the IOM standards.