Parents, Vending Machines Can Hamper Good School Nutrition

A number of hidden factors make it tough to eat right on campus, study finds

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THURSDAY, Feb. 9, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Early lunchtimes, parents who bring fast food to the cafeteria for their kids, and school income from vending machines can all conspire against high school students trying to make healthy food choices, a new study finds.

More information on these previously unreported dangers might help schools develop policies that can improve teens' eating habits, said Pennsylvania State researchers, who analyzed data from surveys completed by school food service directors at more than 200 public high schools across the state.

Twenty-five percent of schools had lunch periods scheduled before 10:30 a.m., and these early lunches predicted higher sales of a la carte items, which often have lower nutritional value.

"Students who have early lunch periods may purchase a la carte items to eat later in the day when they are likely to become hungry because they have eaten an early lunch," the researchers explained. "This seems to be a new finding, and suggests that timing issues may be important considerations in encouraging the purchase of more nutritious food options."

They also found there were more vending machines per student in schools that received income from vending machine sales. The more vending machines, the less likely students were to take part in hot lunch programs, the researchers noted.

Finally, schools that prohibited parents or students from bringing fast food into the cafeteria had increased participation in the school meal program.

"It's important to pay attention to all of the factors facing students -- not just whether federally regulated meals are available -- in order to make it easy and desirable to kids to make healthy choices," study leader Dr. Claudia Probart, an associate professor of nutritional sciences, said in a prepared statement.

The findings appear in the February issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about healthy eating.

SOURCE: Penn State, news release, Feb. 2, 2006

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