Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Study Shows School Soda Sales Slouching

On-campus soda availability dropped by almost 50 percent between the 2006-2007 and 2010-2011 school years.

broken coke vending machine

Photo: SliceofNYC (Flickr)

Many high schools have thrown their soda vending machines to the curb. A new study found that only 25 percent of high school students were able to purchase sugary beverages during the 2010-2011 school year.

Where’s The Soda?

School is starting soon, and that means students will once again be pressed into the mealtime morass of the school cafeteria.

There has been plenty of political heave-ho on the subject of school lunches, with divisive issues like whether pizza should be considered a vegetable for its diminutive drizzle of tomato sauce.

There is good news on the beverage horizon, though — school soda sales are in a serious slouch.

A study published Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine shows that last year roughly half as many middle and high school students were able to make soda and other sugary soft drinks a regular part of lunch as were able to do so four years earlier.

“Public school districts really have been getting the message that regular sodas are not a good thing for our kids to be drinking,” says Yvonne Terry-McElrath, the study’s lead author.

If You Can’t Buy It, You Can’t Drink It

According to results, in the 2006-2007 school year, 54 percent of high school students were able to purchase soda and other sugar-heavy beverages. That number dropped to 25 percent during the 2010-2011 school year. The numbers are even lower for middle school students, with a concurrent drop from 27 percent of students to 13 percent.

This may be bad news for soft drink sales, but it’s likely good news for student health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. schoolchildren are either obese or overweight — three times the proportion of obese and overweight kids from 30 years ago.

An article cited in the study claims that sweetened drinks “have been found to be the primary source of added dietary sugars” for children. Nutritionists also believe sodas “have contributed to the surge in obesity among American children and adolescents.”

Too Bad About Sports Drinks

While soda purchases may be down, sports drinks are still widely consumed.

About 83 percent of high school students still have regular access to drinks like Gatorade or Powerade at mealtimes. This figure is down from 90 percent in the 2006-2007 school year. (The figure for middle school students is more dramatic — from 72 percent to 55 percent.)

While sports drinks aren’t as calorie-rich as sugary sodas, the study’s authors still consider them bad news for kids.

According to the guidelines given by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, sports drinks still qualify as high sugar beverages, especially when compared to unsweetened fruit juices. Unlike juices, sports drinks were designed to restore lost calories and salt to athletes engaged in sustained, vigorous physical activity.

“In general, people still perceive sports drinks as a health option for kids,” says Terry-McElrath.

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Jain Waldrip

Jain Waldrip loves food, nature and talking endlessly. Her foodie interests reflect her Texan roots and her sordid vegetarian past. She is proud of having inherited her father's sense of direction, so she therefore navigates only by using restaurants as reference points.

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