GAO Report Shows Junk Food in 9 out of 10 Schools

Statement of CSPI Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan


new report from the Government Accountability Office leaves little doubt about the proliferation of junk foods in America’s schools. Despite pockets of progress around the country, the GAO report shows that nearly nine out of 10 schools offers junk foods to kids out of vending machines, school stores, and via “a la carte” lines right in the cafeteria. High schools are pretty much saturated with junk food, and middle schools seem to be getting worse, not better.

That some high schools have come to depend on revenue from junk-food sales is a national disgrace. But this revenue isn’t a donation from Coke or Pepsi—it’s coming out of parents’ and children’s pockets. Schools can make money without selling junk food. A study by USDA and CDC found that in 17 schools and districts that measured revenue before and after improving school foods, 12 saw revenue increase and four had no change.

We certainly encourage school systems and state legislatures to act on their own. But strong federal action is needed to protect what is, after all, a major federal investment in the school lunch program. It’s startling how many legislators have put the “rights” of Coke, Pepsi, and other junk-food makers ahead of the things that parents value—their kids’ education and health. 

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]