Report Criticizes School Vending Machine Snacks for Contributing to Obesity
The Center for Science in the Public Interest on Monday released a report on "Better and Worst Snacks" for school vending machines and asked parents to lobby for healthier snacks in schools to help address the issue of childhood obesity, Knight Ridder/Akron Beacon Journal reports (Potrikus, Knight Ridder/Akron Beacon Journal, 9/15). The "worst" snacks included sodas, cookies, Hostess snack cakes, fruit drinks high in sugar and low in fruit, milk with 2% or more fat, candy bars and Keebler Club Sandwich crackers. "Better" snacks included unsweetened applesauce cups, granola bars, fruit cups, unsweetened dried fruit, Chex mix, low-fat milk and bottled water. The CSPI report also encouraged parents and school administrators to establish new standards for foods sold outside school meal programs, such as bans on soda sales, limits on portion sizes and limits on the amount of fat and calories (Higgins, Washington Times, 9/16). School breakfasts and lunches must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional standards. Snacks in vending machines, although prohibited by federal law in school cafeterias during meals, do not have to meet the same standards (Govindarajan, Los Angeles Times, 9/16). About 98% of senior high schools, 75% of middle and junior high schools and 40% of elementary schools have vending machines, snack bars or school stores that sell food, according to CSPI (Knight Ridder/Akron Beacon Journal, 9/15). Fifteen states have launched efforts to improve the nutrition of food offered in schools, such as the addition of healthier snacks in vending machines and bans on junk food (Los Angeles Times, 9/16).
Dr. Susan Finn, chair of the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition, agreed that students should consume healthier foods, but said, "You can take every vending machine out of schools, and I don't believe you'd touch the obesity issue in children." According to recent studies, only 2% of children have a healthy diet as defined by the USDA, and calories in snacks consumed by children increased 30% between 1977 and 1996. Finn said that parents should educate their children on proper dietary habits and that schools should spend more time on nutrition and physical education, rather than ban soda and snacks (Knight Ridder/Akron Beacon Journal, 9/15). Sean McBride of the National Soft Drink Association agreed, adding, "If you're leading a balanced lifestyle, you can have some refreshment in your daily routine" (Los Angeles Times, 9/16). However, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI, said that schools "teach one thing in the classroom and practice something else in the hallway." Wootan added, "It sends them the message that nutrition is not important" (Knight Ridder/Akron Beacon Journal, 9/15).
In related news, HHS this week awarded the first two of 12 community grants in a $13.6 million effort to promote healthier habits and reduce obesity in the United States, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. HHS awarded $250,000 to eight American Indian tribal communities in Michigan with high diabetes death rates to develop a program to encourage a return to more traditional foods, such as fresh fish, berries and wild rice. In addition, the department awarded $1.2 million to seven of the most overweight and sedentary neighborhoods in Boston to develop nutrition and exercise programs in schools and programs to encourage parents to limit the amount of television that children watch to two hours per day. HHS has not named the other grant recipients (Neergaard, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/15).
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday examined a number of bills before Congress that address the obesity issue in the United States. The legislation includes a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), called the "Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act," that would establish a $60 million program to fund local healthy lifestyle efforts. Other bills focus on reforms to the federal school lunch program, bans on junk food in school vending machines, and increased funds for school nutrition education programs (MacPherson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16).
- The Knight Ridder/Boston Globe on Sunday examined employer-sponsored programs to promote healthier behavior among employees. According to the Globe, many employers sponsor the programs -- which often offer incentives such as discounts on health insurance premiums and copayments, improved benefits, more vacation days and free sessions with personal trainers to employees who participate -- to avoid the "high price of ignoring the bad habits of workers," absenteeism and chronic disease. A survey of 960 large employers nationwide found that last year 40% used incentives or disincentives to promote healthier behaviors among employees, according to benefits consultant Hewitt Associates (Vandewater, Knight Ridder/Boston Globe, 9/14).