School Food and Beverage Availability and Children's Diet, Purchasing, and Obesity

Evidence From a Natural Experiment

Published in: Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 67, Issue 6, pages 804–813 (December 2020). doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.03.004

Posted on on March 11, 2021

by Andrea Richardson, Nancy Nicosia, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Ashlesha Datar

Read More

Access further information on this document at Journal of Adolescent Health

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.


Existing evidence on relationships between school food environments and children's in-school purchases, dietary behaviors, and body composition is based on observational studies that are vulnerable to residential selection bias.


This study leveraged exogenous variation in school environments generated by the natural experiment due to military parents' assignment to installations. We analyzed 1,010 child-wave observations from the Military Teenagers Environments, Exercise, and Nutrition Study collected during 2013–2015. Using multiple linear and logistic regression, we examined whether the number of competitive food and beverage (CF&B) items available for purchase in school, overall and by type (unhealthy, healthy, neutral), was associated with in-school food purchases, dietary behaviors, and body mass index (BMI) outcomes. Covariates included child and family characteristics and the healthiness of the home food environment.


Unhealthy item availability was positively associated with purchasing any sweets (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 1.30; p < .01), snacks (AOR, 1.23; p < .01), and sugar-sweetened beverages (AOR, 1.19; p = .01). However, there were no significant associations with overall food and beverage intake (e.g., sweets, soda) nor BMI outcomes. The home food environment was significantly associated with all outcomes.


Access to unhealthy CF&B items may influence in-school purchases but does not appear to influence overall dietary behaviors and BMI outcomes. Substitution of caloric intake across locations within versus outside of school may play a role in explaining why purchases were associated with unhealthy CF&B availability but overall diet and downstream BMI were not.

Research conducted by

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.