Arlington students will no longer be able to purchase sodas and sports drinks in school vending machines, after the Arlington School Board voted last week to ban the beverages in an effort to stem the tide of adolescent obesity.
The new ruling requires all vending machine products to “meet or exceed USDA standards” and strives to replace unhealthy products with nutritional alternatives. Machines will be stocked with bottled water, reduced-fat milk, fruit-based drinks containing at least 25 percent juice and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices.
“What we make available will be of a higher quality than it has been in the past so we can help our kids do better in school,” said school board Vice-Chair Mary H. Hynes. “It’s important to me that we have drinks that provide energy and good fuel for kids.”
Elementary and middle school students will not have access to school-operated vending machines and they will be turned off during the breakfast and lunch periods in high schools.
New guidelines also specify the nutrient levels and fat and caloric content of snacks available in vending machines. Candy bars, chips and others snacks cannot contain more than 35 percent of calories from fat and 10 percent from saturated fat. The school superintendent will have the power to periodically update the nutritional requirements of snack foods.
The school board voted four to one in favor of the measure, with Frank K. Wilson casting the lone dissenting vote.
Sports drinks were removed because they contain high levels of sodium, sugar and additives and are not suitable for everyday consumption, though they possess benefits following strenuous exercise, school officials said.
Sodas and fruit drinks are the leading sources of calories and added sugars in teenagers’ diets and a major contributor to adolescent obesity rates, which have tripled over the past two decades, said Joy Johanson, a senior policy associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“The sale of low-nutrition foods in schools undermines parents’ efforts to feed their children a healthy diet,” Johanson told the board during its Sept. 22 meeting. “It sends children the message that good nutrition is unimportant.”
Students will still be able to bring sodas from home to consume on school grounds and machines in teachers’ lounges will continue to sell soft drinks.
SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER Libby Garvey, who was unsure how she would vote at the beginning of the meeting, said she was uncomfortable holding students to a different standard as teachers. She was swayed, in part, by the multitude of phone calls she received from parents urging her to approve the ban.
Some fear that the measure sets a potentially dangerous precedent, as the school board begins to legislate what children can consume.
“What will we ban next? French fries?” Wilson said. “Are we going to limit the portions of beef a student can eat a week?”
Instead of prohibiting soft drinks in vending machines, Arlington schools should invest more time and money in health education classes, Wilson said. There is the possibility the policy will backfire, Wilson said, as more students could bring sodas from home or buy them at stores.
Many Yorktown and Wakefield students patronize food trucks selling snacks and sodas found parked across the street from their schools. In a previous school board meeting, members discussed whether students violate school policy by technically leaving campus to frequent the trucks.
A greater concern of parents is the nutritional value of the food their children are served in school cafeterias. The school board is currently exploring ways to make school lunches healthier, Garvey said.