Will U.S. Government Regulate All Food Sold in Schools?

By Gerry Pugliese
Flickr: baratunde

When I was in high school, I thought the vending machines were so cool. They made me feel like an adult.

I could grab some food whenever I wanted. No more waiting for lunch period. Awesome!

But today, 17% of school kids are obese, triple the rate it was in 1980. So giving teenagers open access to junk food all day is a dumb idea.

That’s why the USDA is gunning to regulate all food sold in schools, including vending machines. Right now the U.S. Agriculture Department only oversees school lunches, and bars the sale of foods with poor nutritional value, such as soda.

But, it does not regulate foods sold a la carte, or in school stores. This may change, however.

Soon the USDA will begin drafting legislation that will give it the power to oversee all food in schools. This way stuff sold in vending machines will not “undermine” nutrition programs. Sounds like a good idea.

More recently, The FDA also is addressing the a la cart items often sold at school cafeteria’s. These are often high calorie items like pizza that compete with more healthier items being offered.

The findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prepares to issue policies requiring that food and beverages sold outside of federal school meal programs meet minimum nutrition standards. These items sold in vending machines, school stores, and cafeteria a la carte lines are often called “competitive foods” because they compete with school meals for students’ spending. Src

Most people will spend their entire lives behind a desk eating junk food and not moving, no sense starting them off early!

Via Reuters.


  1. Haley

    As a high school student, I have only used the vending machine twice this entire year. Once for fruit snacks, and another for poptarts. Honestly, taking away vending machine is taking away a choice, or even a freedom. Having vending machines with whatever we want in them is a freedom, NOT a privilege. Besides the government should check what is in the machines before deciding they can choose what is in them, because ours don’t contain any twinkies, or ho-ho’s. We have granola bars, fruit snacks, poptarts, chips, and nuts. So what we have chips and poptarts? The serving sizes of those are not enough to be an obesity problem. GET REAL. (:

    • Armando

      I honestly see whats the big deal.. I mean I think they should allow students to buy whatever they want. If a parent has a problem with it, then they should be able to decide on what they eat. For example, if a student is overweight, then the parent could eliminate junk foods by telling an administrator or using an online resource. People like me with low metabolisms, should be able to get whatever they want.. I usually don’t even eat anything at lunch because it tastes awful. Everything in my cafeteria taste like cardboard and is just plain out nasty. The only thing I even consume is maybe a bag of chips… I’d rather have improved lunches instead of junk food but in reality, lunches won’t improve. Although, we could easily include junk food and I’d actually eat. Same with others. No one at our school like the food. It is nasty. The drinks somehow incorporate a taste of carton and the food is inedible. It would be better for me to eat something than nothing. Even if that something is JUNK FOOD..

  2. ashton glance

    I am in the 7th grade and i stopped eating because i thought i was fat! i ended up in the hospital iwas very stupid! if my school served better lunch choices i wouldn’t be so cautious about my weight!

  3. Terrence Aym

    Why the federal government wants to control what you eat

    You may not have realized it, but you have no right to decide what you eat. The ultimate choice is reserved to and should be determined by the federal government.

    “There is no ‘deeply rooted’ historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds,” declared U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose, assistant Martha Fagg and Roger Gural, trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in a court document signed by all three.

    This incredible assertion was made by the three government attorneys during the proceedings of a federal case they are arguing in Iowa. The U.S. Department of Justice contends that Americans have no “fundamental right” to any food they may desire. They have no right to choose what they eat, nor do they have the right to obtain what they want to eat.

    As amazing as it seems, the “government of the people” no longer thinks the people are smart enough to choose their own food.



  4. Maha

    I can’t recall there being a single vending machine at my high school in the 80’s. I don’t get this whole idea of even placing them on school campuses. I don’t care if it contains healthy food or crap food, they don’t belong on school campuses. Why? Because the students are a captive audience, and the people who own the vending machines are taking advantage of the situation. Obviously kids need to eat during the day, so there are two options: buy it at the cafeteria or bring it from home. For the kid who wants a snickers after a soccer game, bring it from home. What’s the big deal? Vending machines are not a necessity to student life, I wouldn’t even call them life-enhancing. It’s simply another money-making scheme. To me it’s like putting slot machines on school campuses and then saying ‘oh, the pictures should be of trees not half naked ladies’. They shouldn’t be there to begin with.

  5. Natalie

    Very true,and I find some of the comments from some people who are obviously parents really sad. BUT I don’t think the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of vending machines- even though I disagree with them completely. But I would imagine that they would be a huge contributing factor, especially in an age where that is all some kids are eating for their school lunch, instead of being sent something nutritious from home!! What happened to the days that the things we buy from vending machines were treats and not our staple diet???

    If you consider that the age for type 2 diabetes has become less and less over the years, and that very young children now suffer from the disease, AND that it is quite curable through diet alone……We HAVE to ask ourselves WHY. Are we allowing our children to eat themselves to death!! And sorry folks, but it starts at home. And do we really have an excuse? There are oceans of good, sound, free nutritional advice out there. The issue is not about an occasional Snickers bar, it’s about Snickers bars and the like becoming our children FOOD. Just remember – the government does not love your children, only you do.Just do the right thing.

  6. Ayntagonist

    Frankly, I think it’s hypocritical. Much of the reason Americans have the weight problems they do is because of the way the FDA has let corporate lobbyists make food that is no longer food and filled with chemicals and hormones. This food will be sold at schools because it is cheap, and I, as an experienced teacher who has seen kids return from lunch again and again, believe that it will only make kids sicker. Think about it. Why have disorders like autism, Aspberger’s, PCOS (in teens too!!!), ADHD, and depression skyrocketed? Why do so many kids have behavior disorders? Why are girls under 9 years-old getting their periods? It’s not because of the vending machines, and the government’s decision is nothing but a smokescreen that make them look like they’re trying to do something to people unaware of what cooperations are doing to U.S. food. Even some of the products that used to be so dedicated to avoiding hormones, etc. have given in (e.g. read your Ben and Jerry’s ice cream carton very carefully).

  7. Sylvia Klinger, MS, RD

    I appreciate that people are moving to provide healthier choices in schools since I have two school age children. As a registered dietitian and consultant to food and beverage companies, I know the importance of nutrition education and know of several initiatives already in progress such as The School Beverage Guidelines a national campaign that aims at providing more nutritious drinks in schools. So far, there has been a 58% cut in total calories and a 65% reduction in shipments of full-cal soft drinks!
    I like to remind all my patients that all foods and beverages can be enjoyed in moderation which includes a sweetened beverage once in a while! After all we are humans 🙂

  8. Ann

    It seems that a lot of people are saying that it’s the parents’ job to teach healthy eating habits. That’s definitely true. But it’s also clearly not working for everyone. There are a lot of things that maybe should be taught at home, but the government still steps in to regulate anyway. This isn’t stopping parents from teaching their children about health. And it doesn’t stop a parent who really wants their kid to have a Snickers from having a Snickers. It would just take away the source from the vending machine. People wouldn’t be too happy if vending machines at school sold cigarettes or alcohol, but we said that it was up to the parents to teach their children not to buy it.

  9. Kellie - My Health Software

    Vending machines are banned from primary schools in Sydney, Australia. My kids have never used one as there aren’t that many around. They do know that I won’t use them as the prices are much higher than in the shops.

    However, this has not stopped the problem of childhood obesity in Australia. If vending machines are banned in American schools, don’t expect it to make a difference on the weight of children attending schools. Education on healthy eating and weight begins in the home.

  10. Natalie Petrie

    I have read most of the above comments, and many pertinent issues have been raised. And I know that the main discussion is around vending machines in schools. BUT I have struggled with my weight most of my adult life, and I have an 11 year old son who from an early age showed a tendency to gain weight. I recently came to the realisation that I had absolutely nothing to complain about unless I (the parent)took control and decided what I fed myself and my family. I have done so much research into food, and have found out that we are being “poisoned” by bad fats, sugar, refined starch, colourants, preservatives etc,(we all know this) So we have banned at least 90% of these types of products from our house.Our rule is “food in its most natural, unprocessed state”, and I have to tell you it has been very difficult, but extremely worth it. Let us NEVER leave the welfare of our health to any government. Only you truly have your children’s best interests at heart.

  11. Diane, Fit to the Finish

    The federal government needs to let the indivudal school systems regulate their own food offerings. Parents of individual counties need to lobby their school board members.

    This is no more the federal government’s job than it is for them to dictate what we eat in our own homes. Just my own thought!

  12. Spectra

    I never had money for the vending machines, either. If I knew I had to stay late at school, my parents told me to take food from home in my backpack and eat that. Ultimately, it has to be up to the parents, not the government, to regulate kids’ eating habits. It would be kind of nice if vending machines had healthy options as well as candy, but some people really want to eat Snickers bars. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the government to step in and say “No more Snickers bars in vending machines”. The whole situation reminds me of when we were in grade school and some kid acted up in class and the rest of the class lost recess or something…one person ruined it for everybody else.

  13. Alibear1979

    I think the government should stay out of this one. they already control enough as it is.
    I like the comments about children learning about money and having the independance that comes with a choice to purchase food from a vending machine. I grew up in Pittsburgh where there was a KFC less than 50 feet from the school. We did not have vending machines but we all still found a way to get unhealthy food. We would sneak out over lunch or directly after school to KFC or the drug store to buy what we wanted.
    I agree that the knowledge needs to come from the parents. We all need to take some responsibility when it comes to our children on matters of nutrition. They are BOMBARDED with food from every angle and should get used to turning down unhealthful snacks and making wise decisions. Also, what happens when a kid just finished soccer game and wants a reward of a snicker bar? why should a fit kid who occasionally treats themself have to be denied something because others dont have the knowledge to make wise decisions. I just dont know about this one…

  14. FitJerk - Flawless Fitness Blog

    Haha Ditto! Stop the kids money flow and you stop them from using the vending machines.

    But still, the government stepping in to regulate food for children? Why not. I’m all for it.

  15. Ann

    It clearly failed. It’s not as though if you WANT your child to have this stuff you can’t give it to them to bring to school. They aren’t banning it completely.

  16. sprice76

    Yay–something else for the government to control. Whatever happened to parenting and personal responsibility?

  17. Jallu

    When i was going to school, i couldnt afford the stuff from vending machines.. that pretty much took care of that issue for me.

  18. Heather

    “Soon the USDA will begin drafting legislation that will give it the power to oversee all food in schools. This way stuff sold in vending machines will not “undermine” nutrition programs. Sounds like a good idea.”

    Actually, to me, it sounds like a horrible idea, just one more example of government interfering where it doesn’t belong. The USDA shouldn’t be allowed to outlaw food, even junk food, even if it helps to make someone obese. School boards and parents are the people who should be making those decisions.

    It’s a slippery slope we’re on; first it’s just the schools the USDA wants to control… next it’ll be hospitals, offices, bus stations.

  19. Ann

    Including healthy snacks in a kid’s lunch misses the point of why they like the vending machines. They like the independence of choosing their own snack. They like feeling “grown up” enough to make their own food choices. And they like showing their peers that independence. What they need to do is have healthier options in the vending machine, so kids get the same feeling of independence but with healthy foods.

  20. Ann

    Oh yeah, that’s a good idea. Come to think of it, why do we have a USDA at all? And what do budget cuts do exactly? They force the agency to lay off people. You don’t reduce government spending in a recession – that’s basic economics.

  21. Barry

    Not if we don’t cut their budget first.

  22. Ann

    Sorry, USDA, not FDA.

  23. Ann

    Why do all issues have to be solved before another one can be addressed? None of the things you mentioned is the responsibility of the FDA. So why can’t the FDA go ahead and address the issue of junk food in schools? If they don’t, they will spend their budget on something else that doesn’t fall on the list of “important” issues you gave.

  24. e.

    yes! What a relief that the government has paid its bills, maintained Federal highways and bridges, competently settled foreign diplomacy and handled the domestic economic issues and now they can move on to that all-important issue of how much candy school kids eat.

    Seriously. What is wrong with this country.