Healthy eating habits begin early, and in an effort to curb consumption of sugary drinks by students, Fairfax County Public Schools will be conducting a pilot program in September that will ban sugary soda drinks in seven of its 25 high schools.
Sugary drinks, according to researchers, are believed to be a major contributor to increasing rates of childhood obesity in the United States, as well as diabetes, heart disease and other diseases. Schools in more than 40 states have banned student access to sodas.
According to an Aug. 19 FCPS new release, soda products are not currently available in any Fairfax County Public
Schools during the school day, except for adult purchases in teachers’ lounges.
The ban will remove regular soda products from the after-school soda machines in each of the seven participating schools, which include Chantilly, Falls Church, Langley, Marshall and West Potomac high schools; Lake Braddock Secondary School, and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Student and parent after-school fundraisers such as snack bars and booster clubs are excluded from this pilot.
“I have been working with staff and the Real Food for Kids community advocates to get this pilot started. I proposed the idea back in February, and we've been working with staff and various school principals to get support,” said Ryan McElveen, a Fairfax County school board member.
“Obviously, some schools are wary of the idea since they could potentially lose revenue if students don't buy enough of the new, healthier products, but I'm confident that they will. In fact, students at TJ requested that we remove all sodas, including diet, from the machines, after they did research on the nutrition contents,” McElveen added.
In the participating schools, 47 existing soda machines will be replaced with 37 new, state-of-the-art glass front beverage machines.
The new items, according to school officials, will include diet sodas, diet and unsweetened teas, coconut waters, V-8 Fusion Juice, SoBe Lifewaters, Propel Zeros and G2 Gatorade products. The costs of the new machines will be covered by the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo.
An evaluation of the one-year pilot will be conducted by FCPS’ Office of Food and Nutrition Services and will include an examination of revenues, students’ product preferences and acceptance of new products.
But limiting access to sugar-sweetened beverages may not have the impact school officials hope for. In one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject, published in 2008 in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers looked at soda and sweetened beverage consumption among roughly 7,000 fifth and eighth grade students across 40 states. The students were followed between 2004 and 2007, a time when many states and school districts were beginning to enact bans.
The study found that removing soda from cafeterias and school vending machines only prompted students to buy sports drinks, sweetened fruit drinks and other sugar-laden beverages instead. In states that banned only soda, students bought and consumed sugary drinks just as frequently at school as their peers in states where there were no bans at all.
While McElveen agreed that a comprehensive ban on all sugary drinks would be most effective, he said FCPS is taking this “one step at a time.
“I am confident that the pilot will show us that students will drink the healthier beverages as much as, if not more than, sodas, and that offering the new beverages will be a viable option for all schools,” McElveen said.