Thus à la carte revenues, which are likely the majority of competitive food revenues (see discussion above), are mainly devoted to food service operations. Essentially, they are used to pay off salaries of food service workers and to obtain food and other supplies. As indicated in ASFSA (2002), more than 90 percent of à la carte revenues are used for food service operation costs.

Experience of Schools in Restricting Competitive Foods and Beverages

The committee examined the financial experiences of schools that have restricted the availability of competitive foods and beverages to their students. Relatively little information was available because schools have only recently begun to make this transition and share their experiences (see below).

Evidence from the California LEAF Study

Probably the most thorough research is a pilot study of the effects of competitive food and beverage restriction implementation in California (Woodward-Lopez et al., 2005). Sixteen schools in nine districts were studied, and financial data were obtained from school district personnel. The study was conducted by the Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkeley.

The investigators found that, when competitive food and beverage restrictions were imposed, gross revenue from school meals went up for 13 of 16 schools after the pilot changes. This increase in gross revenue occurred largely because more students participated in the NSLP, instead of buying competitive foods. However, gross revenue by itself is an imperfect measure of impact on the schools because it fails to account for possible changes in costs that might offset the revenue. The investigators found that only 5 of the 16 schools could provide sufficient data with which to estimate changes in net income. Net income decreased in two of those five schools and increased in three. For at least one and possibly two of the three schools where net income was increased, other factors, not directly related to restricting competitive foods also seemed to have been at least partially responsible.

Although this study was limited to only 16 schools in a single state, it suggests at least two important conjectures. First, it is unclear that schools can implement changes in competitive foods and beverages without losses in net income. Second, it appears that the routine availability of accounting information in schools is limited, and thus it is difficult to fully assess changes in net income. Research that follows on this pilot study may clarify the impact of changes in competitive food sales on school net income.

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