Background: 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.
Objective: 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.
Design: 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.
Subjects/setting: The study included 287 schools and 2,314 children in grades 1 through 12.
Statistical analyses performed: 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.
Results: 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).
Conclusions: 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.