An Evaluation of Secondary School Nutrition Policy Compliance Using Vending Machine Data From the COMPASS Study in Ontario and Alberta, Canada


School policies that focus on health provide guidelines and procedures to support healthy behaviors (e.g., physical activity, healthy eating) in children and youth while they are at school. Two such provincial policies include the Ontario School Food and Beverage Policy and the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth. The Ontario School Food and Beverage Policy, specifically, applies to food and beverages sold in school cafeterias, vending machines, tuck shops, and during fundraising events. This study examined whether a sample of Ontario and Alberta secondary schools were following the guidelines set out in their respective provincial nutrition policy, in terms of the food and beverages sold in vending machines. Our classification process occurred as follows: Co-SEA vending machine data (Stage 1) → Nutritional Facts Table (Stage 2) → the Ontario School Food and Beverage Policy or the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth (Stage 3). Results reveal that it was relatively easy and very cost-effective to include these Built Environment data within the broader COMPASS surveillance system. In Stage 1, main challenges included collecting data through Co-SEA, subjective classification of vending machine type (food vs. drink), and drink and snack items by various data collectors. Drink and snack items were cross-checked against direct observations through available photographs that corresponded to each vending machine. In Stage 2, it was laborious to search for nutritional information vis-à-vis the webpages of numerous snack and drink products. In Stage 3, we found that using the nutrition information collected in Stage 2 to inform policy interpretation was difficult and involved mapping nutritional information to nutrition standards set out in both policies. We provide a description of the methods we utilized to classify, code, and assess policy compliancy of vending machines, and a discussion of the value of insights associated with that method.

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