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Assessing Availability of Competitive Foods in Pierce County Secondary Schools

In spring 2006, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department staff assessed the nutrition environment of all public middle, junior high, and high schools in Pierce County (N=69) to evaluate compliance with federal regulations related to the availability of competitive foods. The assessment consisted of a brief interview with school food service staff and direct observations of the competitive foods available inside or immediately outside the food service area during the meal periods.

Of the 41 schools with vending machines located in the food service area, 12 had at least one machine that contained foods of minimal nutritional value that was operational during the lunch period. Eight schools operated student stores or other non-vending sources for sales of foods of minimal nutritional value during lunch periods. Soda and candy were the foods of minimal nutritional value that were most often available. Based on this assessment, approximately 17,000 students, 35% of all middle, junior high and high school students in the county, currently have access to foods of minimal nutritional value in their cafeterias during the lunch period, in violation of federal regulations.


Staff from TPCHD’s Prevention Priorities Program and Food and Community Safety Program developed and conducted the assessment. The Office of Community Assessment assisted with data analysis and the final report.


TPCHD will repeat the assessment annually to measure whether compliance with federal regulations improves over time.

Target Audience

Middle, junior high, and high school students


Public schools in Pierce County