Even with the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes, many money-strapped schools are still tempted to sign deals with snack food and soda companies which promise to hand over the cash for a shot at young consumers.
The center for Commercial-Free Public Education estimated that over the past three years 240 school districts in 31 states have sold exclusive rights to one of the three big soda barons.
According to Newsweek, about 43 percent of elementary schools and nearly all high schools have vending machines that sell “soda, sugary drinks, candy, and chips to hungry kids.”
The snack and soda companies offer schools hefty kickbacks for allowing the machines—but at what cost?
A school in Washington guaranteed one soda company sales of 4,500 cases of soda per year, or about 50 sodas per student, according to the Washington Post.
In 1997, a Colorado Springs school district “gave Coca-Cola exclusive access to its 30,000 students for a promise of more than $8 million over 10 years,” according to Mother Jones. “The catch: The kids need to gulp at least 70,000 cases of Coke products in one of the first three contract years.”
The Colorado school district is not unique.
One school district in the state of Washington signed a 10-year, $1.75 million deal two years ago to sell Coke products exclusively, the Washington Post reported.
Vending machines in public schools are a relatively new phenomenon, but in the last decade, as schools recognized the potential pay-off of the additional revenue, many lined up to sign on the dotted line.
The pay-off for students has been an increase in obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, broken bones, kidney stones, nervousness, insomnia, attention-deficit disorder and caffeine addiction, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study.
Nevertheless, soft drink promoters contend that their products are not to blame for such unhealthy outcomes.
Richard Adamson, vice president of the National Soft Drink Association, dismissed the Harvard study as “nutritional nonsense,” according to Mother Jones.
“Soft drinks have a place in a well-balanced diet,” Sean McBride, NSDA communications director, told Mother Jones. And their place in young people’s diets is growing.
A Center for Science in the Public Interest report, “Liquid Candy,” revealed that teen-age males consume an average of three or more cans of soda daily. And 10 percent drink seven or more cans daily.
Teen-age females average more than two cans of soda daily, while 10 percent of them consume more than five cans each day.
“Schools have been spitting forth lessons about health and nutrition but made it clear that making bucks is more important than eating right,” according to a Los Angeles Times editorial.
Some school districts, parents and government officials are speaking out against the proliferation of junk foods in schools.
West Virginia banned junk food in school vending machines, according to Newsweek, and Texas, California, Oklahoma and Maryland are working on legislation to protect kids from such tempting sweets.
“Activist parents are also looking hard at school lunches,” Newsweek reported. “Not surprisingly, they want to see more fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains in school cafeterias and fewer greasy hamburgers, fried chicken, or French fries.”
Soon, Newsweek reported, “if you want fries with that, you might see a warning label printed on the bag. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear, ‘You want broccoli with that?'”
Nutrition advocates contend it doesn’t make sense to promote nutrition in the classroom, but then promote junk food in the cafeteria and allow sodas and unhealthy snacks to line the halls of public schools.