Confronting Childhood Obesity
Some historical perspective of America’s childhood obesity epidemic: In the 1960s and 1970s, 5 to 7 percent of U.S. children suffered from obesity. Today, that number has swelled to 17 percent. And despite national efforts otherwise—including September’s National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and the Let’s Move child wellness program—the rate of obesity among the country’s youth continues to climb. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity already impacts roughly 13.7 million children and adolescents.
A major factor in kids’ diets is the food available in schools. Why? The National Center on Education and the Economy reports that the average school day in America is 6.8 hours. So, with 49.5 million public students in America spending so much of their waking day in these institutions, promoting healthy eating habits in schools is more critical than ever.
The need for proper nutrition in schools didn’t escape the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2014, the department set nutritional standards for foods and beverages sold during the school day. The Smart Snacks in School regulation limits the amount of fat, sugar, sodium and calorie content of so-called ‘competitive foods.’ What are competitive foods? They include anything sold outside of, and thus compete with, federal school meal programs. Essentially, competitive foods are all those available in school vending machines.
In response to the Smart Snacks in School standards, many school districts banned junk food sold in vending machines. And that’s a good start. But a study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found banning vending machines from schools can actually increase soda and fast food consumption among students. It appears that when students don’t have access to any snacks and drinks in school, they seek them out elsewhere.
So, what’s the solution to this dilemma? Provide healthier snacks in school vending machines.
When kids have access to healthier snacks, that’s what they choose. In fact, the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project found that as school lunches got healthier between 2012 and 2014, kids ate more of the meal compared to the less healthy options of the past. The report suggests that, when given healthier options, kids will eat them—and in higher amounts than unhealthy foods.
So, banning candy, soda and greasy potato chips in vending machines only drive youth to seek unhealthy snacks, drinks and fast food elsewhere. But providing healthier options in schools has been shown to increase sound diet choices.
Let’s be clear: Providing healthier options in school vending machines is only one part of curbing childhood obesity. Battling this epidemic must also be waged on the home front. According to healthfinder.gov, small steps in the home can make a big difference. These include keeping fresh fruits available and within reach, walking as a family, and asking teachers and school administrators to provide healthy food options, along with daily physical activities for their students.
How is Healthy YOU Vending helping?
We provide our independent operators with the tools and resources needed to offer less-processed, wholesome foods to all the facilities they serve—including schools. And all our food choices meet or exceed the U.S.D.A. Smart Snacks in School standards.
With a network of more than 1,700 independent Healthy YOU Vending machine operators in the U.S., we are leading the march toward healthier eating in schools and businesses alike. If you’re interested in joining our cause to provide better options, contact us today or visit the Healthy YOU Vending website.