The use of vending machines in schools has taken an interesting path over the years. The were slowly introduced in to school cafeterias and the concept gradually become more popular. They were seen for a time as a convenient way to serve food, though some experts in the medical field sent out early warnings about the food they dispensed. In more recent times, they have been at the center of health controversies and have been modified or eliminated from many schools.
The earliest print references to vending machines in schools comes from the 1950s, though the practice was most likely already established in some school districts. Machines were most likely in teachers’ lounges as well as in areas with student access. Though, even back in the middle of the 20th century, there were already concerns over theeffect of vending machines on the health of children. From the New York Times, May 8, 1953 Times, “Candy Loses to a Dentist”;”On Recommendation of Dr. H. C. Steinberger, a dentist and a member of the Cannelton School Board, the board has ordered candy vending machines removed from the Cannelton High School. He said the sugar in the candy was ‘bad for the teeth.”
During the 1960s, the vending industry gained a foothold in school cafeterias and even replaced hot meals in some schools and colleges. Schools in California were the most likely to change from cafeteria food to vending machines. According to Vending Machines (pg 182-183), 107 Southern California schools converted from cafeterias to food-dispensing machines in 1964 alone.
The 1970s saw both wins and losses for the vending industry. The US Department of Agriculture agreed to permit vending and food-service companies to participate in the national School Lunch Program. However, during 1973 hearings of the US Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, many school lunch officials warned members of the committee that food-dispensing equipment selling ‘junk food’ threatened to undermine the goals of the national school lunch program.
In the 1990s, many schools signed exclusive deals with drink manufacturers as a way to stock and sell a consistent product line and help school districts that were experiencing budget issues. During this time, the Center for Science in the Public Interest pressed governing agencies to ban the sale of vending machine soft drinks due to their detrimental effect on the health of children.
The typical vending machine began to fall out of favor in various school districts across the country due to rising child obesity rates and a concern for the long-term health of our nation’s children. A number of school districts in the United Sates have begun to enact rules prohibited the selling of certain types of snacks, including sugary drinks, candy bars, and chips. Some schools have taken their vending machines out, but others have been more proactive by replacing the unhealthy food with healthier choices, such as milk, water, protein bars, yogurt, apple slices, and fresh juices.
Is there a future for vending equipment in schools? As healthy vending becomes more ubiquitous, purchasing apple slices, fresh juice, and yogurt from a vending machine will become more of a norm than it is today. Though kids will most likely never give up soda, candy bars, and chips completely, they may also mix in some healthy snacks with the bad. Vending companies and schools would do well to follow this push for healthier eating habits by limiting the bad snacks and emphasizing the good through the placement and use of healthy vending equipment.