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At-school sales of soda drops, but other sugary drinks remain

August 06, 2012|By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times | For the Booster Shots Blog
  • Fewer students have access to sugar-sweetened soft drinks on school grounds, but many can still get sports-oriented sugary beverages, says a new study.
Fewer students have access to sugar-sweetened soft drinks on school grounds,… (Los Angeles Times )

This post has been updated. See note below for details.

The high school or middle school student who can grab a sugar-sweetened soft drink on school grounds during class hours is becoming a rarity, a new study finds. But lots of kids still can buy high-sugar beverages in schools: Fruit juices and sports drinks that are designed for serious athletes engaged in vigorous physical activity remain widely sold in U.S. middle and high schools.

In 2010-11, 25% of high school students had access to sugary sodas during school -- either at cafeteria concessions or from vending machines. That was down from 54% of high school students in 2006-07. Middle school students' access to sweetened soft drinks also dropped: in 2006-07, 27% had access to sodas and sugary soft drinks; by 2010-11, just 13% did.

The study was published Monday in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, and was funded by Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The declines are reported after several years of state, federal and local actions mandating the removal of sugar-sweetened soft drinks from school cafeterias and vending machines. Studies have shown such beverages to be a significant source of added calories in the diets of American kids, and nutrition experts believe they have contributed to the surge in obesity among American children and adolescents.

The study also found that 83% of high school students still had access on school grounds to sports drinks -- down insignificantly from 90% in 2006-07. For middle schoolers, the decline in access to sports drinks was more pronounced: while 72% could buy such drinks in school in 2006-07, only 55% could do so in 2010-11.

[Updated at 5 p.m. Aug. 7: The American Beverage Assn. took issue with the report, noting that it counted beverages available to schoolchildren through third-party providers, many of whom do not follow voluntary guidelines adopted by beverage manufacturing companies. Working under the auspices of the American Beverage Assn., the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's voluntary guidelines have reduced the calorie content of beverages shipped to schools by 88% between 2004 and 2010, the beverage association says.]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, is preparing to issue new, updated nutritional standards for foods that can be sold on school grounds during the school day. The focus of the current study -- as well as other recent reports -- on other sources of added fat and calories in schools suggests that anti-obesity activists and public health officials will soon target new beverages,  including sports drinks, flavored milk or milk that is not fat-free.

In a recent report, the Institute of Medicine recommended that access to sports drinks be "strongly limited" to athletes engaged in more than an hour's worth of vigorous physical activity.

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