With ongoing efforts to develop and implement school wellness policies, there is a need for information about the availability and consumption of competitive foods in schools.
To describe the availability of competitive foods in US public schools, consumption of competitive foods by children, and contributions of competitive foods to energy intakes.
The study used data from the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study, a cross-sectional study that included a national sample of public school districts, schools, and children in the 2004-2005 school year. On-site observations were used to document the availability of competitive foods and a 24-hour recall was used to assess children's consumption of competitive foods.
The study included 287 schools and 2,314 children in grades 1 through 12.
Most analyses were limited to estimation of means and proportions. Two-tailed t tests were used to test the significance of differences between children who did and did not eat a school lunch.
In school year 2004-2005, competitive foods were widely available in public schools. Overall, 40% of children consumed one or more competitive foods on a typical school day. The most commonly consumed competitive foods were foods and beverages that were low in nutrients and energy-dense. Children who ate a school lunch were significantly less likely than children who did not eat a school lunch to consume competitive foods (36% vs 45%; P<0.01); however, the leading competitive food choices for both groups of children were foods that were low in nutrients and energy-dense. On average, competitive food consumers who ate school lunches obtained 159 calories from competitive foods that were low in nutrients and energy-dense, compared with 201 calories for competitive food consumers who did not eat school lunches (P<0.05).
In school year 2004-2005, competitive foods were widely available and consumed in US public schools and the most commonly consumed competitive foods were low in nutrients and energy-dense. These data support the need for improvements in school food environments and policies and provide a useful baseline for monitoring change as schools work to make these improvements.