study found that children who ate school lunches and breakfasts had higher intakes of nutrients, both at mealtime and as total daily intake, compared to those who did not eat school meals. The study also concluded that their findings were suggestive that participation in the school meal programs declined with increasing availability of competing food options such as à la carte service, vending machines, and school stores. Neumark-Sztainer et al. (2005) studied associations between consumption patterns among high school students and vending machine purchases, and how school policies affect the school food environment. This study found that school policies limiting the hours of operation of snack and soft drink vending machines were associated with a decline in purchases, thus limiting access to foods and beverages high in fat and sugar.
In a Report to Congress (USDA, 2001), USDA highlighted four major concerns about competitive foods:
Diet-related health risks. Many competitive foods and beverages are low in nutrient density and high in fat, sugar, and calories, and can negatively affect children’s diets and increase risk of excess weight gain.
Stigmatization of school meal programs. Low-income children can receive free or reduced-priced school meals. However, only children with money can purchase competitive foods and beverages. Therefore, children may perceive that school meals are primarily for poor children rather than nutrition programs for all children.
Impact on school meal programs. The increase in the sale of competitive foods and beverages is associated with a decrease in student participation in the reimbursable school meal program, which may affect the viability of the program. Although à la carte sales bring additional revenues to school food service programs, declining participation results in decreased cash and commodity support. States with more restrictive competitive food and beverage policies have rates of school meal participation that are higher than the national average.
Mixed messages. When children are taught in the classroom about good nutrition and healthy food choices, but are surrounded by vending machines, school stores, and à la carte service offering primarily foods of low nutritional value, this sends an inconsistent message about the importance of nutrition.
The widespread and unrestricted availability of competitive foods has led many nutrition and health organizations and advocacy groups to recommend setting nutrition standards for foods and beverages offered in schools, and establishing tighter controls of competitive foods and bever-