High Sugar Sodas to Be Phased Out of Dallas Schools

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

An agreement was reached this past spring with Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Cadbury Schweppes to eliminate all non-diet soda and other sugary drinks from most public school vending machines, unless they have a nutritious value, such as juice and low-fat milk. The voluntary agreement, that affects all of the Dallas schools, was brokered by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership between the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association.

The Alliance pushed for the agreement in order to help curb childhood obesity. The three beverage makers agreed amid growing pressure from consumer and medical groups, who are concerned over the high obesity rate in children. They have been pressuring states to enact laws to restrict children’s access to drinks with no nutritional value and high in calories.

The new agreement does not change the rules for elementary Dallas schools, where soda already is banned. It will eliminate soda from the middle Dallas schools, but high schools only will see the non-diet sodas removed.

Studies have shown that just one 100-calorie soda per day adds 10 extra pounds each year. The Alliance hopes the new agreement will help children control their weight. Thirty-five percent of Texas students, including those in the Dallas schools, are considered overweight or obese, according to a 2003 state study.

Nurses within the Dallas schools area already try to identify overweight students at risk of developing diabetes and refer them to doctors. Many believe this is only a first step. Some dietitians agree, noting that soda consumption often signals poor eating and exercise habits, too.

Many Dallas schools parents and students have voiced support of the new agreement, but believe the Dallas schools need to go further to curb the high carb and high fat foods that are served in their cafeterias, as well as the student candy bar fundraisers.

Many educators and consumer groups are not holding their breaths. Students will continue to be allowed to bring sodas from home, which many already do to avoid paying the vending machine prices. Commercial Alert, a nonprofit group that opposes commercialism in schools, believes the beverage makers will back out of the agreement, since it has no enforcement provision. They also criticized the beverage makers for waiting until the 2009-10 school year to completely enact the agreement.

Another problem to enforcing the agreement may well come from the Dallas schools. Over the past ten years, many school districts have signed contracts worth thousands or millions of dollars in revenue. Districts typically agree to sell one company’s line of soda and other drinks in exchange for a share of the profits. Many Dallas schools rely on such profits to supplement their annual budgets.

Students in the Dallas schools may not see much immediate change in their vending machine choices, since the 2009-10 school year is three years away. Even under the contract, sodas will continue to be sold at Dallas schools events, such as band concerts, school plays, presentations, pageants, and sporting events.