Debate Over Junk Food in Schools

There’s a debate in Albemarle County over vending machines, and whether or not schools ought to be selling candy and soda to children. On the one side, people point to the revenue raised by the sales. On the other, people point out that soda has absolutely no health benefits, and contribute to a variety of long- and short-term health problems. Braxton Williams has the story in today’s Progress. The school board intends to make a decision in February.

33 Responses to “Debate Over Junk Food in Schools”


  • You know how else the county could make some money off of kids? Sell ’em cigarettes at school. Once they’re 18, it’s legal. Sure, they’re not good for them, but it’s revenue, and if they smoke, they’re going to bring them in and smoke them anyway.

    Also, they should look at crack.

  • What irony. Schools are institutions with the intent to shape our youth for a better long-term future. But Soda and other junk food provide an immediate cash flow incentive to the detriment of future quality of life and long-term health.

  • I can’t say we didn’t have candy or soda available to buy. A vending machine was in one of the wings of the stage. But, that door was only open after-hours. Candy was available from the school store, open only before school. And we did fine! I was under the impression that school was for learning not getting a sugar high.

  • IMHO, there is something wrong with our society when we ask our schools to market junk food to kids because we’re too cheap to pay taxes to provide needed revenue for education.

    When I was in high school, we had vending machines in the cafeteria, but they were turned off until after school. I went to a small-town school, but they still provided us with the option to order a salad instead of the fattening fare they served for lunch. Why do we teach classes in health and require P.E. (though not enough time is spent in these areas) and then undo the work we’ve done by encouraging kids to buy candy bars and soda? And then some people wonder why obesity and diabetes are a problem?

    *shakes head*

  • A speaker from the Health Departmentat the meeting suggested that the schools remove the candy and sodas and replace them with healthier foods. They even offered $2000 to help out. That seems like a very good idea to me. Even so, if the students want to eat junk they’ll find a way. When I was in eighth grade we didn’t have snack machines and so some of the kids would bring candy to school and sell it on their own. I was a regular customer, mainly because I couldn’t get Royal Crown Sour Cherries anywhere else.

    Kevin Cox

  • Even so, if the students want to eat junk they’ll find a way.

    Great point. The “we’re 17 years old and can eat anything we want” argument doesn’t hold water: they are, after all, free to bring any food that they want to school. The school need not be in the business of selling it to them.

  • I’ve never thought it was a good idea to replace taxpayer funding with profit-generating programs–that idea that a service should pay for itself through by harnessing the profit motive somehow. It seems, inevitably, that you always end up with some kind of crass solution that panders to people’s basest and least enlightened urges–like selling a bunch of kids candy and soda pop. (Full disclosure: I drink soda, occasionally eat candy, and love chips.) It’s like, "okay, they’ve cut our funding again–we’ll have to sell something to generate enough profit to have textbooks for the kids this year. What can we sell? I know, pornography! That’ll go like hotcakes! We’ll be rolling in dough!"

    I mean, where did we get this idea that simply because people will buy crap, that therefore the selling of that crap is the highest, noblest, most unsanctified good that anyone can undertake in this country? (except of course for the selling of illegal drugs and of sexual services–that’s naughty).

    And furthermore, how come we don’t reduce taxpayer funding of the military and make them foot more of their own bill through profit-making ventures like vending machines?

  • Good points. But keep in mind that the county would probably much prefer receiving a level of funding from taxpayers that meets their budgetary needs, rather than making money off the kids. I don’t think those administrators *really* like what has become of public schools these days.

  • Well, when I went to AHS around the early 90’s I do recall the school selling Dominos or Pizza Hut at lunch time. I recall that it was the earlist time that any school did that. I am not sure if they do that now. However I did see a report on Fox News about some schools in the country selling Dominos and even Taco Bell for lunch. My question is this what is the difference?

  • Who says there is a difference? Seems to me that a simliar argument could easily be made against giving Dominos and Taco Bell franchises the chance to sell to kids during school hours.

  • I used to make a killing selling penny candy at school. Once I was busted, not for selling candy, but for having money. Apparently having 20 bucks on you MUST be wrong and thus punished.

    You need sugar to SURVIVE. Your body processes glucose to power cells. If you didn’t eat any sugars, you would simply die.

    Also, who’s to say that "junk" food is really worse for your body than other "healthy" foods?

    An index exists from 0-100 measuring how much a given food affects the blood sugar, a higher number means blood sugar increases more rapidly, and requires production of more insulin.

    A Snickers bar has a glucose index of 68

    Coca cola’s index is 53

    Twix bar, 44

    Compare that with:

    Fruit roll ups: 99

    Mashed potatos: 97

    Baked potato: 94

    White rice: 93

    Corn Flakes: 92

    Carrots: 92

    Choclate Power bar: 83

    Since when are school employees and politicians scientists and doctors? Why does everyone think they have found some outrage somewhere that needs to be "fixed" or we’ll all die horrible flaming deaths? Don’t you think you could be doing something more important with your time?

  • 1. Fruit roll ups aside, the foods listed in the ‘alternatives to candy bars’ list have nutritional value (protein, vitamins) that a coke or a Snickers bar lack, making them a better choice.

    2. Teachers and politicians are not necessarily scientists or doctor’s, but they do have a responsibility to the public good, and it seems to be logical that healthy kids are better for the public good than unhealthy ones. Kids with health problems=expense to the health care system, as one example of why they might want to get involved.

    3. Outrage/horrible flaming deaths remark: overstatement of the anti-junk food position on your part.

    4. What could be more important than the health of our future generations? (Rhetorical question.)

  • Seriously. I think its reasonable and good to have snacks available at schools. I don’t see why they can’t tend towards "healthier" or at least less nutritionally vapid. (as a note, a snickers bar is actually reasonable good for you vs. power bars etc…the peanuts really do provide some real protein.)

    seems to me that the drink machines could be stocked with juices, flavored seltzer water, snapple etc etc.

    also seems to me that this is absurd. it’d be nice to think that we could teach teenagers to take some personal responsibility rather than taking a "keep it away from them" approach.

    importantly, what would we do about revenues the schools get from vending machine sales? serious question in the midst of budget crises everywhere.

  • I would find it surprising if these ‘healthier food’ vending machines actually made much money. Assuming they are not filled with tofu but with granola bars and the like they will sell becuase they are the only option but not being what the customer really wants the sales will drop off. So one point will be met, a healthier student, but the second will not, a continued influx of money from the vending machines.

  • So one point will be met, a healthier student, but the second will not, a continued influx of money from the vending machines.

    I’d certainly like to hope that we can all agree that the former is far more important than the latter.

  • Well said.

    One point: I disagree with you on the "selling of sexual services" [in this country, not in schools], as I think if handled adroitly, this would be a benefit to all.

  • Everyone touts how innovative America is, but then displays so little innovative spirit.

    We have 2 stated wishes:

    1. Additional revenues

    2. Healthy kids in school

    There are so many foods kids love to eat and that are healthy. [Exceptions notwithstanding] they are not readily mass-produced and shrink-wrapped. My wife is a Chef / Catering specialist. I am a world-class eater [smiles]. We know of many local small businesses that provide excellent [delicious / healthy] fare that can make kid-friendly staples and would be more than happy to be given a concession at schools.

    This is a win /win solution. Of course, you have to allow yourself (and our institutions) to think out of the box and this is the largest hurdle. As usual.

  • actually, i think both the drug and the sex trade might as well be legalized so as to manage the criminal and health elements better. it seems that as a nation we make things illegal not based on the knowledge that making it illegal will do any damn good but rather so that we can wear this badge that says "here in the US, we don’t tolerate drug use" as if making it illegal = making us all moral. too many laws are just for show instead of actually being a solution to a problem.

    for the record, i’m not opposed to drug use.

  • end of message. i don’t think it will let me post without putting something in this comment box–i just wanted to make my subject line say it all!

  • good point. how many kids are we underestimating when we assume that the only thing they’ll eat is a Snickers bar, a bag of chips, and a Coke? undoubtedly a lot of kids (and adults) are crazy about junk food–but is the number as great as we think? is the intolerance of something more healthy as great as we think? we pander so much in this nation–you can see it in television, film, mainstream restaurants, everywhere. everyone says that’s what the market demands, but how many alternatives are really out there vying against the crap? (I’m on a crap kick, if you haven’t noticed).

  • "…have nutritional value (protein, vitamins) that a coke or a Snickers bar lack, making them a better choice."

    Aside from diabetes from excess glucose intake, what exactly are the health risks of "junk food"? If thats the only thing we’re measuring by, then the foods I listed are worse for your future health than junk food. You completely ignored that point.

    There is no protien in any of that food I listed. I don’t know what you’re thinking.

    A snickers bar has protein and vitamins, read the label. Also, the idea was that these foods are BAD for your health, not lacking good for you stuff. A school lunch of starchy food and greasy meat is more likely to give you diabetes and heart disease than a coke.

    If that argument is to hold, then removing the vending machine is bad, since the kids would be denied the extra nutrients. And would probably just go without eating. If foods that don’t have "protein and vitamins" are bad, then water (in and of itself a nutrient) is "junk food"

    "but they do have a responsibility to the public good, and it seems to be logical that healthy kids are better for the public good than unhealthy ones"

    Thats just my point, who are they to decide that one food is "good for you" and another is "bad for you". Are they doctors? How do they know?

    Show me some evidence that a vending machine has single handedly killed off an entire generation? Show me… I’m waiting.

    Instead of bitching about the vending machine, perhaps we could TEACH kids something. Have you ever met a HS graduate who knows the difference between no and know? Or there, their, and they’re? Much less calculus *shakes head*

  • Not all of us thought that your comment was to be taken literally.

    The legalization people call it the war on some drugs.

    Here, buy this crap that will give you *insert list of downright terrifying side effects 20 seconds long*, it will make you feel better. Don’t buy this illegal drug that will make you feel better. So remember, legal good good, illegal good bad.

    Or, if you’re afraid of doctors, go buy a case of beer and wrap your car around a tree. Remember, drunken flaming twisted steel blunt trauma death good, illegal drugs bad.

  • Absolutely. I know my eldest son is a triple-A student, accomplished athlete, but he’ll rarely reach for candy. Rather, he’ll beg for Vietnamese Spring-Rolls (not fried), a gourmet sandwich or a high-end organic Strudel / cereal bar.

    The reason most kids go for the junk food is it’s what’s available and they’ve been stuffed with that shit because it was convenient for the adults to feed them that.

  • Since it’s been many years since I’ve had to eat in a school cafeteria (and my mother used to work in one), I don’t know what they are offering. But from reading school menus, it appears to be pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries, and that sort of thing. When my mom worked in the cafeteria, many of their items were homemade such as rolls, pizza, etc. But I don’t know if labor costs would allow that these days. I suspect the foods are pretty much prepackaged as in dump and heat.

    Mother Jones has an article about school lunches and their subsidies by the meat and dairy industries. It’s pretty appalling but not too surprising in a way.

    The Washington Post had in their food section some years ago an article about a cafeteria over in West Virginia. They cooked everything from scratch including their baked goods. They managed to achieve the <30% fat intake recommended by the U.S. Agricultural Dept (which oversees school cafeterias yet subsidizes the dairy/meat).

    http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2003/02/ma_207_01.html

    That said, there are some choices in vending machine products that can be made healthier: such as Smart Popcorn, fat free items, bottled water and I’ve even seen some vending machines with fresh yogurt, apples, etc.

    I imagine it’s pretty hard to take care of kids with varying degrees of help such as those with lactose intolerance, vegetarians, religious dietary restrictions so I’m not dumping on school cafeterias etc. I do think it’s sad that budgets must depend on outside sales such as vending machines in order to make ends meet.

  • Aside from diabetes from excess glucose intake, what exactly are the health risks of “junk food”? If thats the only thing we’re measuring by, then the foods I listed are worse for your future health than junk food. You completely ignored that point.

    I’m afraid that you’re completely ignoring the point of food. You eat food to get vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, etc. Junk food generally just fills you up without providing any of those things, except for disporportionately large amounts of simple carbohydrates and a lot of chemicals that are more likely than not detrimental to your health. But, even regardless of those chemicals, you’re fulfilling your stomach’s desire for food without fulfilling any of your nutritional needs except for the one most easily satisfied, which is generally overly satisfied anyway. So while junk food isn’t necessarily harmful to you directly, it definitely is indirectly.

    And guess where we learn that? School! : )

    Show me some evidence that a vending machine has single handedly killed off an entire generation? Show me… I’m waiting.

    You just looooooooooooove going to extremes, don’t you? No one said anything even remotely like that. I’m not even sure why you did.

  • The argument being made is that this junk food is detremental to your health. What disease does it cause? I don’t see the health risk. First they’re listing diabetes as a risk, so I talk about diabetes and how "healthy" foods are more likely to cause to diabetes. Now its "well they have chemicals in them" and "chemicals" are bad for you… What isn’t made of chemicals? YOU’RE made of chemicals. Who said that "junk" food (read: in a vending machine) has toxic chemicals in it? What exactly is the anti-vending machine argument anyway? Are they just assuming vending machine means junk food, junk food means sick kids? Is that supposed to be an assumption? Is there a doctor in the house? Can someone tell me how this will make children sick? Its corn syrup for crying out loud, not cyanide.

    If the nasty-cafeteria-mashed-potatoes can lead to diabetes, how can you ban soda pop because it doesn’t have protein in it? Neither do mashed potatoes! At least soda wont give you diabetes! Lets just starve the kids, that way they can’t ingest anything that might possibly hurt them. Go ahead and pad the rooms too. And take away those pencils, they’re pointy.

    You can’t ban something because it is less nutritionally complete than some other food, that would leave you with only ONE food available, the most nutritious of them all. Do we really want to feed children lumps of "ration" with no choices? Variety is healthy, why limit them to less variety by removing certain foods?

    By your argument, water should not be provided because it contains no vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, or fiber. Sure, it fills you up, and you do need it to live (much like you need simple carbohydrates to live), but its not nutritionally complete enough, and you get plenty of it in everything else you ingest.

    Oh no! They’re drinking soda and eating chips, next thing you know THEY’LL BE LISTENING TO THE ROCK AND ROLL AND THEN THEY’LL BE DANCING!

  • The argument being made is that this junk food is detremental to your health. What disease does it cause? I don’t see the health risk.

    First, there are health risks aside from diseases. Nutritional deficiency, which I illistrated very clearly and linked to junk food directly (and I might note you haven’t disputed), is a very real health risk and holds much greater, more immediate danger than obesity and just as much risk as diabetes. That alone is good enough reason to frown on junk food from a health perspective.

    Second, diabetes is a disease and despite your suggestions, far more people develop diabetes from eating too much junk food than from eating too many mashed potatoes. Do the research, I did. Sure, a baked potato has more glucose, but a baked potato fills you up right quick, and people don’t eat multiple baked potatoes in one sitting. People do, however, eat multiple pieces of junk food sitting on the couch in front of the tube.

    You can’t ban something because it is less nutritionally complete than some other food, that would leave you with only ONE food available, the most nutritious of them all. Variety is healthy, why limit them to less variety by removing certain foods?

    You’re putting words in people’s mouths and not paying attention to what’s actually going on. They’re just trying to take away the vending machines, which are there not to feed students, but to make the school money. They still serve chocolate milk in the cafeteria, for Christ’s sake.

    By your argument, water should not be provided because it contains no vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, or fiber.

    You should have noticed that my argument was in the context of hunger, not thirst. Thirst is your body’s mechanism to get you to consume only one thing: water. Hunger is its mechanism to get you to consume many things (vitamins, etc.) Thus drinking water satisfies both your thirst and the nutritional need that incurs it, while eating junk food satisfies your hunger but NOT the nutritional need that brought it.

    its not nutritionally complete enough, and you get plenty of it in everything else you ingest.

    That’s certainly not true. If you drank no water, you would die. Food provides some water, true, but only a fraction of what you need to survive. You absolutely have to drink water or at least something like juice or soda that is mostly water. Though getting all your water from juice or soda would be a health problem unto itself because you’d be consuming far too much sugar over the course of the day, which can easily lead to obesity and possibly even diabetes.

  • I’m certain that you could draw some sort of inverse ratio between snack healthiness and snack sales. In addition, juices aren’t as much healthier than many sodas as we’d like to think.

  • "First they’re listing diabetes as a risk, so I talk about diabetes and how "healthy" foods are more likely to cause to diabetes….If the nasty-cafeteria-mashed-potatoes can lead to diabetes.."

    You’re misinformed about diabetes. You used numbers you got from the glycemic index, but those numbers only relate to diabetes in the sense that they tell someone who already is a diabetic how quickly different foods will turn into glucose and hit their bloodstream. They have no relation to causing diabetes.

    Type I diabetes, the kind that mostly kicks in with kids and requires daily shots of insulin, isn’t caused by diet, exercise, or anything like that.

    Type II diabetes, the kind that used to be confined to adults but is increasingly showing up in kids, is caused partly by being overweight. A diet heavily dependent high-caloric, low nutrition foods like soda and candy bars clearly leads to overweightness much more than a diet of plain baked potatoes (if you keep the skin on, they’re nutritional!). In that sense, we can say that a vending machine diet does support overweightness which does correlate with diabetes.

  • hi, im 12 and i go to a school in australia.
    were doing a debate on junk food in school were on the positive side meaning that we have to agree that there should be junk food sold in the canteen and the negitive side has to say that kids should ask there parents if they can by food at the school canteen.

    if you have anything for my side of the debate i would be very greatful.

    thank you,

    georgia

  • by the way if you thought that i was in school at 9:00 at night then yur wrong its the 21st of june at 11:12 am

    this is obvisly american.

  • Georgia, I’m afraid that this discussion was over more than two years ago. They only reason that I saw your post is that I run the website, so I see all new postings. :)

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