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The School Vending Machine Controversy

Controversy rages over whether vending machines in schools contribute to childhood obesity. The Obama administration has sought to reduce the availability of snack foods and sugary drinks to school-age children, leading to significant discussion over whether or not the government should step in and interfere with the business of vending machine companies.

Many school districts place vending machines in schools as a means of raising funds for new computers, school renovations, or student activities. The school officials believe that children will consume these products regardless of their ready availability, and they object strongly to the idea of limiting the market that is offered through soda and candy vending machines.

A recent case in Utah helps highlight the controversy. Two schools ended up paying fines of $16,000 and $19,000 for allowing vending machines to be plugged in during the lunch hour. This action was in direct violation of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010, a federal law stipulating that carbonated beverages may not be sold during school lunch periods. One school principal objected strongly to this law, arguing that students now have to leave campus in order to find items they would previously have purchased at school. He believes that eating decisions should be left between parents and local schools, not controlled by the federal government.

On the other side of the issue, parents and health-conscious activist groups raise valid concerns about the steady increase of childhood obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimate that approximately one child out of every five is obese. Concerned citizens point to the high-sugar, low-protein snacks sold in the vending machines in schools and argue that vending machine companies should provide healthy alternatives to these products. Candy vending machines, for example, should be replaced with options such as yogurt, fruit, and wraps.

What will happen as a result of this controversy? Vending machine companies are seeking to help by reducing the amount of sugary drinks and snacks that are shipped to schools. As laws change, they may become similar to regulations that control what may be included in school lunches. Candy vending machines may gradually disappear as healthier options become available. There’s no doubt that all parties involved want to see children stay healthy, so the market will continue to adjust to the changing needs of our soci