NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Target School Vending Machines

October 9, 2003

The battle against childhood obesity used to be one of admonitions: Don't eat this candy, don't drink that soda.

Now elected officials are proposing measures to put the nation's children on a diet. State policymakers appear particularly eager to join the war on fat, and many are choosing vending machine sales in schools as their first target:

  • In the latest high-profile action, Gov. Gray Davis of California signed a bill Sept. 17, 2003, that places restrictions on the kinds of foods and drinks that can be sold in school vending machines.
  • That move was preceded over the summer by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs' executive decision to limit schoolchildren's access to candy and sodas.
  • And Arkansas enacted a school nutrition law in June that prohibits access to vending machines in elementary schools and requires middle and high schools to restrict those sales to students until after lunch.
  • Similar legislative proposals to ban or curtail soda and candy sales in schools have been introduced in at least 19 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Shortly after unveiling the new policy, Combs released a survey that showed roughly half the 932 school districts in Texas have exclusive vending contracts with soft drink companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Dr Pepper. The agreements are lucrative, generating an estimated $54 million annually for Texas public schools, with the largest districts raking in as much as $2.7 million a year.

Industry representatives call the legislative efforts to outlaw or limit school soda and snack sales misguided. They argue that legislation to improve health instruction or mandate physical education would be more effective in combating obesity.

Source: Darcia Harris Bowman, "States Target School Vending Machines to Curb Child Obesity," Education Week, October 1, 2003.


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