High School Vending Machines May Contribute to Teen Obesity

August 15, 2013
Lebanon, NH

Sugary drinks have been linked to youth obesity, and teens are drinking more of them. Are high school vending machines part of the problem? It could depend on where the school is located, according to Anna M. Adachi-Mejia, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine and The Dartmouth Institute, and a member of the Cancer Control Research Program at NCCC.

Adachi-Mejia, who led a study that examined high school beverage vending machine content in 26 Vermont and New Hampshire high schools, reported on the research in "Variation in access to sugar-sweetened beverages in vending machines across rural, town, and urban high schools," recently published in Public Health.

The study found that the most common beverages offered in high school vending machines were flavored water (34.8%), sugar-sweetened beverages (23.6%), and plain water (21.8%). Compared to vending machines in urban schools, town high schools had more machine-front advertising and offered up to twice as many sugar-sweetened beverages.

"This variation suggests an opportunity for us to learn how some schools were able to offer healthier choices. They could serve as role models for other schools,” Adachi-Mejia said. “We should be paying attention to what kinds of beverages kids are drinking. Cancer prevention starts with a healthy diet and with adequate physical activity. These behaviors can also prevent obesity, which is a risk factor for many different types of cancers."

Since teens spend most of their time in school, the food and drinks offered there can influence their food choices. School lunch menus follow federal regulations that limit unhealthy foods, but school vending machines have not been consistently regulated, and often offer unlimited access to sugar-sweetened beverages. Most schools have limited the amount of soda they offer, but many adults may not realize that sport drinks, fruit drinks, nondiet iced teas, lemonade, and even chocolate milk are all sugar sweetened.

"I hope that this research starts the conversation about accessing healthy beverages in school. Parents and school staff can think of sugar-sweetened beverages as ‘rarely’ drinks. Everyday drinks include water and plain milk," Adachi-Mejia said. "Finding so much bottled water in the vending machines makes me wonder, do kids still have access to free, potable water in the schools? In terms of next steps, we should ask, when was the last time the water fountains were cleaned? Are they accessible? And is the water palatable?"

About Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock

Norris Cotton Cancer Center combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth College and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College with patient-centered cancer care provided at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock regional locations in Manchester, Nashua, and Keene, NH, and St. Johnsbury, VT, and at 12 partner hospitals throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. It is one of 41 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute’s “Comprehensive Cancer Center” designation. Learn more about Norris Cotton Cancer Center research, programs, and clinical trials online at


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