The study found that a la carte sales generate almost $700 per day per school among the schools surveyed and $450 of that income comes from the sale of a la carte items that have few federal requirements compared to the school meals.
Income from soft drink incentives also appears to play a role in the nutrition environment, the study found. The existence of soft drink machines owned by soft drink companies, for which the school or district receives a percentage of sales, predicted a higher number of vending machines per student. When there were more vending machines, there tended to be less participation in the hot lunch program.
Probart notes that these findings prompt consideration of tough issues; for example, if changes are made in a la carte offerings and vending contracts which result in decreased sales, where will any lost revenue be found? Almost 85 percent of school foodservice programs receive no financial support from their school districts.
Another factor affecting the school nutrition environment that some schools reported getting under control was parents. Enforcement of a policy prohibiting parents or students from bringing fast food into the cafeteria increased participation in the school meal program. About 25 percent of the foodservice directors reported having such a policy and that it was enforced. Another 28 percent reported that they had no such policy or recommendation.
Probart notes, "It's important to pay attention to all of the factors facing students not just whether federally-regulated meals are available -- in order to make it easy and desirable for kids to make healthy choices."