The prevalence of obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Twenty-five percent of school aged students are overweight. Schools have the opportunity to help slow this epidemic. School cafeterias in the United States feed millions of students every day through the National School Lunch Program.
Point-of-sale machines are used in most school cafeterias to help streamline the process of purchasing school lunches. The point-of-sale software allows school personnel to place special notes on student's accounts to provide alerts about parental requests. This study investigated what the alerts are used for, who uses the alerts, and if there are any patterns by demographic characteristics.
Counts and percentages were used to determine what the alerts were used for and who used them. This study found that students who were white non-Hispanic, paid status, or in elementary school were most likely to have alerts placed on their accounts. Also, the majority of point-of-sale alerts were used as allowances (i.e., allowed to purchase snacks from the balance on the school lunch account), rather than restrictions (i.e., restricted from purchasing high calorie foods or specific food items). Using chi-square analysis, a total of 688 alerts were analyzed. There were significant differences in alert frequencies for intent category by grade level (p=0.000), snack access (p=0.000), and gender (p=0.002). Therefore, the results are significant, and one can conclude there is a significant relationship between gender, grade level, and snack access, and the presence of an alert on the school lunch account.
Also, school administrators may want to take into consideration possible changes to their program, such as requiring more time to run the software. The results of this study can assist school administrators to better understand that a point-of-sale alert program may help their school lunch programs run more efficiently, while also providing parental influence on students’ food choices at the point-of-sale.
School food service authorities should consider implementing a structured point-of-sale alert policy to encourage parental input on their children's food choices. When implementing the point-of-sale policy, schools should publicize this policy online, through school lunch menus, and parent communications increase participation throughout the school district.