Are the Vending Machines at Your Child’s School Healthy?
It’s easy to control your kids’ eating habits by being careful how you stock the fridge. But what about when they’re at school? What are they getting from the vending machines?
Have you taken a good look inside the vending machines at your child’s school lately? Depending on where you live, you may be unhappy with what you see.
Some school vending machines are filled with potato chips, chocolate bars and baked goods, as well as colas and sugary fruit drinks. In many school districts, though, milk, water, dried fruits and nuts are offered instead.
Some states have laws – or are working on them – that will keep children from buying unhealthy snacks and drinks during the school day. Instead, kids will be offered bottled water, 100 percent fruit juice, milk, yogurt, cheese, fruit, nuts, seeds and trail mix.
The cola wars
Many school districts have signed contracts with soft drink dealers, agreeing to sell a certain brand of soft drink – and only that brand – in exchange for money. Signing these agreements has earned school districts across the country hundreds of millions of dollars, but may not be in your child’s best interest.
Dairy products encouraged
Students are now being offered “dairy-only” vending machines in some schools. Here children find plain, strawberry, chocolate and even banana milk, as well as cheese and yogurt. Studies show that kids will drink milk if it’s served cold, offered in different flavors and displayed attractively. Kids who drink milk have better diets and healthier weights than those who prefer sweetened drinks. Teen girls who drink milk gain less weight than those who don’t. On the other hand, the more soda a teenage girl drinks, the more her weight increases.
Organizations against soft drinks in schools
The American Beverage Association recently asked school districts to buy only water and 100 percent fruit juice to serve to elementary school children. Middle school children would receive the same beverages, as well as sports drinks, calorie-free soft drinks and low-calorie juice drinks.
Many organizations believe soft drinks cause cavities, aren’t nutritious and are bad for children’s overall health. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and the American Pediatric Association (APA):
- The acids in sodas can eat away at tooth enamel.
- The more soft drinks children have, the less milk they drink.
- Drinking sweetened beverages can lead to weight problems.
Nearly one in every three children is at risk for becoming overweight, and one in six children actually is overweight. Obesity can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other diseases. Each year, these types of diseases in children and adults cause more than 300,000 deaths.
Nearly 40 percent of our bone mass is gathered during adolescence. Lost bone mass – resulting from a lack of calcium – can lead to a future of osteoporosis and fractures.
Between 56 percent and 85 percent of school children drink at least one soft drink daily. Twenty percent of those children drink four or more servings daily. When children replace milk with soda, calcium isn’t the only nutrient they lose. Milk also gives them phosphorus, riboflavin, vitamin B12, protein and vitamin A.
What can parents do?
If you’re concerned about the junk food showing up in your school’s vending machines, let your voice be heard. Encourage school officials (e.g. the principal, your child’s teacher, the school gym/health teacher) and parent groups to push for nutritious snacks and beverages. Also, talk to your child and get them to ask for changes. Regardless, talk to your children about why you feel the choices in their cafeteria are unhealthy. Then pack nutritious snacks and beverages for them to take along each day.