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UNIVERSITY PARK, PA -- A study published in this month's Sociology of Education argues that vending machines placed in schools do not lead to weight gain among middle-schoolers. The findings were widely circulated in a recent article posted by the Huffington Post, an Internet newspaper that draws more than 26 million visitors a month.
The study's authors -- Penn State researchers Jennifer Van Hook and Claire E. Altman -- initially expected to find a link between the availability of vending machines and weight gain. Their hypothesis: school venders advertise "unhealthy foods" and provide students access to them throughout the school day.
But after reviewing nationwide health data on thousands of middle school students, the researchers found that students, who have access to competitive foods like those sold in vending machines and snack bars, gained no more weight than those at schools without competitive foods.
One reason for the findings, the research suggests, is that the structure of a middle school day makes it hard for students to buy food outside the lunchroom. The researchers speculate that advertising has less of an impact than they originally expected because adolescents have already developed their dietary habits and brand preferences by the time they get to middle school.