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Schools Tell Soda Drinkers to Make Another Selection

Health: Two Orange County districts remove the soft drinks and unhealthful snacks from vending machines. Student reaction is mixed.

September 07, 2002|CLAIRE LUNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The blue glow of the cola logo beckoned sophomore Chad Winter, who began to feed a dollar bill into the vending machine. Suddenly, he recoiled and gave the machine a kick.

"Where's the soda?" said Chad, 15, who groaned when his friends told him that all the machines at Capistrano Valley High had been restocked with water, iced tea and juice. "I can't believe this pathetic school thinks this is the way to get me healthy," he said.

It was a harsh welcome this first week of classes for students at the Mission Viejo campus and others in the Capistrano Unified School District.

Capistrano Unified and neighboring Newport-Mesa Unified are beginning the school year by eliminating soda pop and unhealthy snacks from school grounds, about two years before Los Angeles Unified is set to implement a soda ban approved in late August with great fanfare.

Both Orange County districts are combining the ban with nutrition education and a greater emphasis on physical activity.

Capistrano has offered nutrition classes for years, and Newport-Mesa is continuing nutrition seminars it began in January for parents and students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"We're teaching kids about making better choices, not just taking the unhealthy ones away," said Dick Greene, Newport-Mesa's manager of nutrition services, who said the district began phasing out soda from vending machines this summer, with elimination expected by 2004.

During snack break and lunch at Capistrano Valley this week, Chad and many others said they would never buy the new drinks.

Others shrugged and bought what was there.

"I don't really like iced tea that much, but I'm thirsty," said sophomore Joey Sorrentino, 16.

That district's students are in for another jolt next month when a new set of vending machines is installed. The beverages will probably continue to be water, juices and iced teas, but the snack machines--now offering cupcakes, chips and blueberry-filled cookies--will be restocked with healthier food such as popcorn, raisins and beef jerky.

Some, like 15-year-old junior Alex Villabrille, said they didn't mind the switch. Alex said that the peach-papaya drink he bought was better tasting than soda anyway. "It's more refreshing," he said.

None of the students questioned this week were concerned about the ban cutting into the funds the sales contribute to their sports teams and student groups.

Nor did officials at either district think the new policies would substantially reduce sales.

In Newport-Mesa schools, water had already been outselling soda 2 to 1, Greene said.

Capistrano Unified purchasing director Colleen Emery said she and vendors and officials from other districts considering similar policies are eager to see how sales fare.

"Maybe it's my naivete, but I still think if it's a warm afternoon or you're bored to tears in fourth period, any kind of nice, cold drink will do," she said.

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