WASHINGTON -- The majority of the nation's high schools do not sell better-for-you snacks like fruits and vegetables in school vending machines, stores or snack lines, according to a new report by the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project, a joint initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The study, "Out of Balance: A Look at Snack Foods in Secondary Schools across the States," claims there is a wide state-to-state variability in the types of snack foods and beverages available in secondary schools. It was based on data collected from a biennial survey of principals and health education teachers in secondary schools conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Research shows that the consumption of 110 to 165 calories above recommended amounts per day -- roughly the difference between an apple and a bag of chips --may be responsible for rising rates of childhood obesity," said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project. "Because many students consume as many as half of their daily calories at school, what children eat during the school day is a critical issue if we want to reverse obesity rates."
Among the other key findings is that many states reduced the availability of low-nutrient, high-calorie snacks such as chocolate, other candy or full-fat salty chips in secondary schools between 2002 and 2008, but progress has since stalled.
Hundreds of secondary schools sell "less-healthy" snack foods or beverages. In 36 states, more than a quarter of schools sold them in 2010, according to the report.
The study suggests the availability of "healthy" snacks, such as fruits and vegetables, in high schools is limited. In 49 states, fewer than half of secondary schools sold fruits and vegetables in snack venues in 2010.
The findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture prepares to issue policies requiring that foods and beverages sold outside of the federal school meals program, including through vending machines, meet minimum nutrition standards.
Earlier this year, meals served in most public schools were overhauled to comply with nutritional guidelines drafted by USDA to implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. But those regulations do not cover snack foods and beverages.
In light of the findings, The Kids' Safe and Healthful Food Project recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture establish nutrition standards for all snack foods and beverages sold in school outside of the school meals program, and adopt policies and practices that ensure effective implementation of the standards.
"The evidence is clear -- schools can do this. Many states have made progress towards making healthier snacks available to students, but more must be done," said Donze Black. "We urge USDA to adopt strong standards and help to put them into practice. All kids, no matter what school they attend, should have healthy snack choices at school."