The Washington Post: Vending machines have become a lucrative source of cash for many schools, dispensing soda and other high-calorie drinks that have no nutritional value to children along with millions of dollars to their schools. Meanwhile -- and perhaps it is related -- childhood obesity is on the rise, with rates doubling in the past two decades. For this reason, and also because sodas can promote cavities, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that "sweetened drinks" be eliminated from schools. A growing number of jurisdictions are moving, or considering moving, to do that.
Reacting to this concern, the American Beverage Association, the industry's trade group, issued guidelines this week for member companies about soda sales in schools. The guidelines are a modest improvement, particularly in middle schools, where under the nonbinding rules soda machines would be turned off during school hours. For the most part, though, the guidelines don't change the status quo; they seem to be aimed more at fending off additional restrictions. They are, you might say, more fizz than substance.
The new guidelines would apply different rules to elementary, middle and high schools. Sales of soda and other sweetened drinks would be prohibited in elementary schools; only water and 100 percent juice would be allowed. That's great, except that is already the situation almost everywhere. The biggest and most welcome change would come, as noted above, in middle schools.
Unfortunately, that policy of no soft drinks during the school day wouldn't extend to high schools. Instead, the only restriction for high schools would be a requirement that beverage vending machines set aside half their slots for healthier beverages.
D.C. is a model
Some local jurisdictions have already gone further than the guidelines recommend. In Washington, D.C., soda is not permitted in vending machines for pupils, and, beginning this school year, only 100-percent fruit juice and water will be available. In Montgomery County, Md., vending machines can't sell sodas or drinks containing less than 50-percent fruit juice until after the end of the school day. Fairfax County, Va., has prohibited soda for years. The beverage industry's new guidelines are a step in the right direction, but it's time for schools to kick the soda habit once and for all.