Feeling thirsty between math and history classes? If you’re a student in an American high school, the chances are you’ll be able to slake that thirst with a big gulp of sports drink.
Soda is less accessible at American middle and high schools than it was four years ago, but those preteens and teens still have easy access to other sweetened beverages, including sports and fruit drinks, according to a study published in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
Earlier this year the Obama administration introduced new federal guidelines for school meals, and followed that up with an announcement that they were contemplating new rules for vending machines on school properties. These proposed regulations, however, appear to have stalled.
The good news is that nationwide, one in four public high school students had access to regular soda in school during the 2010-11 school year; a decrease from four years earlier when more than half of high school students could buy soda in school.
In middle schools, 27 percent of students could buy regular soda on campus in the 2006-07 school year, compared with 13 percent four years later.
The bad news is that even though it’s not so easy to buy soda, 63 percent of middle school and 88 percent of high school students could buy sugary drinks including sports and fruit drinks from vending machines, a la carte lines in the cafeteria, school stores, and snack bars.
From Education Week:
“Our study shows that although schools are making progress, far too many students still are surrounded by a variety of unhealthy beverages at school,” said Yvonne Terry-McElrath, a researcher from the University of Michigan and the study’s lead author. “We also know that the problem gets worse as students get older.” She is a co-investigator with Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Princeton, N.J.,-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the study.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is authorized by the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to regulate what is sold in school vending machines and other places in school outside the cafeteria.
Last May, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg caused a stir by proposing a ban on the sale of large-sized sodas or sugary drinks — the first in the nation — at restaurants, movie theaters and food carts, in an effort to combat obesity. Now two California cities, Richmond and El Monte will be asking voters in November to raise the tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.
Some call this government intrusion, while others consider it necessary in the face of our growing obesity problem.
But our public school system has a duty to provide students with healthy food and drink.
Nutritionists say that school vending machines stocked with potato chips, cookies and sugary drinks contribute to childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one in every five children is obese.
Research also shows that sports drinks, which can contain large amounts of added sugar and salt, should only be consumed by serious athletes engaging in vigorous physical activity.
It’s time for the USDA to get regulations for vending machines in place to help ensure that all students across all grades have healthy choices at school.
Or how about just sticking with water?
Photo Credit: gregkamprath