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Secondary Schools Serve Unhealthy Foods
Date:7/7/2008

U.S. elementary schools have better offerings than high schools, study says

MONDAY, July 7 (HealthDay News) -- The kinds of foods that students can purchase at their public middle schools or high schools are far less healthy than the food available to children attending elementary schools, a new study suggests.

The researchers based their conclusion on a tally of the number of vending machines installed at 395 schools spread across 129 school districts in 38 states, as well as on a nutritional analysis of the kinds of foods stocked in the machines or offered up a la carte in school cafeterias and snack bars.

"The food environment changes as you move from elementary schools to high schools," said study author Daniel M. Finkelstein, a researcher with Mathematica Policy Research, in Cambridge, Mass. "And the main difference between the lower and higher grades was the greater availability of unhealthful foods and beverages for older students."

The findings are reported in the July issue of Pediatrics.

Finkelstein said the purpose of the study was to take a nutritional snapshot of current food offerings in public schools -- not to gauge exactly what students were purchasing or consuming. The research also didn't try to explain what is driving the nutritional shift between the elementary school and the high school level.

The researchers analyzed questionnaires and food checklists completed in 2005 by school principals and food managers as part of the third School Nutrition and Dietary Assessment study. Random on-site food inspections were also done in some schools.

The conclusion: The school "food environment" is significantly healthier in lower grades.

While vending machines were found in just 17 percent of elementary schools, they were found in 82 percent and 97 percent of middle schools and high schools, respectively.

Finkelstein noted that, while vending machi
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