November 2, 2009
Obesity is a serious and growing problem among adolescents in the United States. “In 1999, 13% of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years in the United States were overweight. This prevalence has nearly tripled for adolescents in the past 2 decades” (“Fact Sheet”). A key cause for concern is that “overweight adolescents are at higher risk of medical conditions such as hyperlipidemia, glucose intolerance, hypertension, and sleep apnea. Also, overweight adolescents are more likely to be overweight as adults, and they are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. All-cause mortality is also higher among men who were obese during adolescence” (Forshee et al. 1121-135). The cause of increased overweight or obese adolescents is highly disputed. One hypothesis claims that the availability of foods high in sugar and fat in schools is to blame. “The school environment is recognized as having a powerful influence on students' eating behaviors. Ecological models of health behavior posit that such influence is multilevel and includes not only intrapersonal and social and cultural factors but physical factors as well” (Kubik et al. 1168-173). School environment is ever more important because children are spending more and more time in schools than they are with their parents. This has led people to question whether the present day school environment is having a negative impact on adolescent’s dietary behaviors. It is argued that school vending machines carry drinks and snacks that may not be the healthiest options for the youths. They also carry very limited-if any-healthy alternatives. A survey from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington-based consumer group, “found that the vending machines in middle and high schools are filled with candy, cookies, chips, soft drinks and other sugary beverages, and very few fruits or healthy snacks” (Hellmich). This problem has gained significant interest and many solutions have been suggested. There is an ongoing debate between two frequently suggested solutions. The first solution suggests that the removal of vending machines is necessary as it facilitates unhealthy dietary habits in adolescents. The other points out that removal will only shelter the youth from making dietary decisions they will eventually face. After further review of the two, it seems a ban on vending machines in schools is the only plausible solution. A major reason for the ban is that most vending machines contain unhealthy foods. A number of parents point out that the school environment does not reflect the health messages that they try to convey to their children. A study by Weicha et al pointed out that “The great majority of US secondary schools sell items a la carte in the cafeteria and through vending machines, and these 2 sources often contain low-nutrient, energy-dense foods and beverages, commonly referred to as junk food” (1624-30). Another study by Martha et al. showed that “school-based snack vending machines were negatively related to the average total daily servings of fruit consumed by the young adolescents. With each snack vending machine present in a school, students' mean intake of fruit servings declined by 11% (P=.03)” (1168-173). The solution to this may sound as easy as replacing the “junk food” with healthier options, however healthier options don’t sell. This affects both the school and the vending companies. “Pouring rights contracts exist in the majority of schools and/or districts with whatever influences they carry on the promotion of soft drink sales in the schools, but they almost certainly create an incentive for school administrators and school boards not to discourage the sale of soft drinks to students. Threshold incentives, whereby the school receives added incentives for...