Out of Balance

A Look at Snack Foods in Secondary Schools Across the States


Many schoolchildren consume up to half of their calories at schools, and school foods and beverages can have a significant impact on children's diets and weight. In addition, the availability of snack foods progressively increases by school level. Half of secondary school students consume at least one snack food a day at school, an average of 273 to 336 calories per day.

The Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project—a collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—recently analyzed data on the types of snack foods and beverages sold in secondary schools via vending machines, school stores, and snack bars. The data set was extracted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) School Health Profiles 2010: Characteristics of Health Programs Among Secondary Schools in Selected U.S. Sites—a biennial assessment that uses surveys of principals and lead health education teachers to measure health policies and practices in secondary schools on a state-by-state basis across the nation. 

Key Findings

  • Nationally, the availability of snack foods in secondary schools varies tremendously from state to state. For example, only 4 percent of the schools in Connecticut sell non-chocolate candy, while 66 percent of the schools in Louisiana do so. 
  • Under this patchwork of policies, the majority of our nation's children live in states where less healthy snack food choices are readily available. 
  • Overall, the availability of healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables is limited 
  • When states don't differentiate between more- and less-healthy snacks, the overall snack food environment suffers. 
  • While many secondary schools reduced the availability of less-healthy snack foods between 2002 and 2008, progress has since stalled. 

To learn more, and to read recommondations for improving nutrition standards in schools, please visit