BOX 3-1

Competitive Foods Are Widely Available

National data on the extent to which competitive foods are offered in schools are available from the 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (and others). The GAO study found that

  • 91 percent of high schools, 88 percent of middle schools, and 67 percent of elementary schools offered foods à la carte;

  • 91 percent of high schools, 87 percent of middle schools, and 46 percent of elementary schools had food or beverage vending machines that students were allowed to use;

  • 54 percent of high schools, 25 percent of middle schools, and 15 percent of elementary schools sold food through a school store or snack bar; and

  • Some schools allowed foods to be sold for fund-raising purposes during school meal periods. For example, fund-raising—e.g., seasonal candy sales or bake sales that raise revenues for school organizations—through the sale of foods to students during the school day as allowed in more than 4 out of 10 schools in 2003–2004. These types of fundraisers were permitted in two-thirds of high schools and less than 40 percent of middle and elementary schools.

SOURCE: GAO, 2005.

For example, the source table in the article indicated that 28.8 percent of elementary schools sold 1-percent milk in a vending machine, school store, canteen, or snack bar. However, only 43 percent of elementary schools were reported to have one or more of these sales venues. Therefore, for all schools, the percentage of elementary schools selling 1-percent milk in at least one of these venues is 43 times 0.288, or 12.4 percent, the percentage reported at the top of column 3 of Table 3-1.

The subsequent discussion provides details about competitive food and beverage sales venues and the kinds of foods often available outside the federally reimbursable school nutrition programs. Often, the same types of foods are sold or served to students in different locations, although safety and health factors such as refrigeration and freshness place limitations on distribution. Most high schools offer competitive foods and beverages in one or more of the categories listed in this section. Access to competitive foods and beverages is more limited in elementary schools, but is still very common.

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