unregulated by the federal government. Furthermore, availability is usually not overseen by the school food service staff. As a result, competitive foods and beverages reflect a broad range of energy and nutrient content. Some competitive foods and beverages consist of healthful items, such as fruits and vegetables. However, many are snack foods and beverages that are calorie dense, nutrient poor, and contain high levels of fat, sugar, and sodium.

Federal regulation has labeled a subcategory of competitive foods and beverages as Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value (FMNV). USDA defines FMNV as those that provide very low amounts per portion for each of eight specified nutrients: protein, vitamins A and C, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, calcium, and iron. Included in this category are carbonated soft drinks, chewing gum, water ices, and certain candies made predominantly from sweeteners. Schools participating in the NSLP are prohibited from selling FMNV during meal periods in school cafeterias and other food service areas (GAO, 2005). Schools are also prohibited from designing food service areas in such ways that encourage or facilitate the choice or purchase of FMNV as a ready substitute for, or addition to, federally reimbursable meals.

The federal regulations dealing with FMNV set a minimum standard. This does not preclude local schools from setting stricter rules. For example, some states prohibit the sale of FMNV on campus until 30 minutes after the last lunch period (see Chapter 4 discussion of state and local policies).

The widespread availability of competitive foods and beverages is well documented (Wechsler et al., 2001). They are often sold in the school cafeteria, and they may be offered elsewhere in school buildings, on school grounds, or at school-sponsored events. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report School Meal Programs (GAO, 2005), nearly 90 percent of schools offer competitive foods and beverages. Their prevalence means that most students at all age levels have many food choices in the school environment in addition to the federally reimbursable school nutrition programs or the brown bag lunch (Box 3-1).

The array of possibilities was illustrated graphically in a recent GAO report, reproduced here as Figure 3-1.

Table 3-1 shows the percentage of schools where students can purchase specific types of foods and beverages through à la carte sales in the cafeteria or in vending machines, school stores, canteens, or snack bars. For columns 3 and 4 of the table, the original source, Wechsler et al. (2001), reported percentage of schools (data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]/School Health Policies and Programs Study [SHPPS]) using as a base the number of schools that had a vending machine, school store, canteen, or snack bar. The base of the percentage was converted to represent all schools by multiplying the percentage reported in the original article by the percentage of schools having at least one of these sales venues.

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