No soda: pop machines removed at high school

Quest for healthier drink choices bubbles up from student leadership

August 27, 2005

Come September, students at Hood River Valley High School will no longer be able to purchase soda at school. All student-accessible vending machines that sell soda have already been removed, and the student store will no longer be selling carbonated refreshments.

This decision came after the Hood River County School Board reviewed the status of soft drinks and their presence in district schools, according to district superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady. The board also reviewed the status of Hood River County School District’s contract with Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of The Dalles, and the revenue generated from the vending machines and how it was used.

“HRV administrators reported that some seniors in leadership classes noted the contradictory messages between required health classes that teach students about the inherent unhealthiness of soft drinks, and that location of vending machines selling these items in the school right outside the door of the health classrooms,” Evenson-Brady said.

What ensued was a request by the school board to the principals of Hood River Valley and Cascade Locks High Schools to bring them a plan to “help students make healthy choices in beverages,” according to Evenson-Brady.

This decision comes less than a week after the American Beverage Association released new voluntary policy guidelines for vending machines in schools.

In these guidelines, the ABA urges the beverage industry to provide high schools with “a variety of beverage choices, such as bottled water, 100 percent juice, sports drinks and juice drinks.” And, under these new standards, “no more than 50 percent of the vending selections will be soft drinks.”

But HRVHS has taken these guidelines a step further, and decided to remove all student-accessible soda from the school. Co-principal Steve Fisk made this decision after reading a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that suggested that carbonated, caffeinated beverages not be sold at all in schools, he said.

Hood River County is currently contracted with Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of The Dalles — and will be until 2012. But, as Evenson-Brady pointed out in an Aug. 24 school board meeting, this does not mean that the district must maintain a certain number of machines, a certain amount of products or a certain product line; what it does mean, though, is that all beverages sold at any district school must be provided by Pepsi.

“(Pepsi) has been great to work with as we look for alternate products,” Fisk said, talking about the new beverages that will be offered this year. These beverages include two types of bottled water, Gatorade, Dole juices and Sobe drinks.

“This sets a better example ... but it’s not perfect,” said Fisk. Many Sobe drinks and some Dole juices contain high amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup. “We have to work within our bounds to provide the healthiest options for kids,” he said.

Another issue that may be raising concern is the loss of revenue cause by nixing the soda machines.

According to Fisk, the school’s student body made $13,900 from vending machine sales during the 2004-05 school year. With the removal of the soda machines, it is estimated that the school will only generate $7,000-$8,000 in profits — a loss of almost 50 percent.

“The board made a choice that while cutting the pop machine revenue ... was not desirable, it was even less desirable to continue to market unhealthy beverage choices to students through vending machines,” said Evenson-Brady.

Although some students may be upset about losing the vending machines, the overall impact is expected to be minor.

In a study conducted by two seniors last year, it was found that only 67 percent of students ever used the vending machines, and of those, only 10 percent said they really wanted soda or candy. The rest said they wanted a snack, but would be open to other choices, according to Fisk.

The ABA also recommended that full-calorie sodas and full-calorie juice drinks that contained less than five percent juice not be available to middle school students until after school, but Evenson-Brady said that these were not previously available to the students.

Even with this new policy, students will still be allowed to purchase coffee from the espresso cart before school, bring their own soda and candy to school, and purchase soda and candy at extracurricular activities such as sporting events.

The vending machine that normally sells muffins, sandwiches and juice will remain. Fisk, along with the rest of the administration at HRVHS, is continuing to look in Portland for other vending machines that sell healthful snacks.

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