School drinks mean big bucks!

The first targets for school food reform were the vending machines that lined the hallways of schools, including elementary schools. These products, especially the soft drinks, represent an enormous, profitable market for manufacturers, and the various interests have fought hard to capture this market.

After the World Health Organization blamed soft drinks for the increase in worldwide childhood obesity and called for the removal of vending machines in schools, the European Vending Association (a trade group), outlined their rebuttal, which is similar to the objections offered by their US counterparts.

  1. Vending machines can offer a wide range of food and drinks (including healthy ones).beverage vending machine
    True. The machines are not the problem; the issue is what items are in them. Junk food is the most profitable, but vendors will switch to healthier choices rather than see their machines removed.
  2. Products offered in vending machines supplement the other foods served in schools; they don’t replace them.
    Whoever wrote this needs to spend some time in schools and observe what many of the students are eating. (Better tasting school lunches and a reasonable amount of time to eat them would go a long way to discourage children from consuming cola/candy lunches.)
  3. Eating habits are learned in the very early years of infancy.
    Yes, but many parents of today’s infants grew up on microwaved meals, fast foods and the contents of school vending machines.
  4. Reversing obesity rates requires a program that involves better nutrition education, more physical exercise, and appropriate parenting.
    • How will nutrition be taught in schools that promote non-nutritious foods in their hallways and cafeterias?
    • How will schools promote exercise without bringing back P.E. classes and recess?
    • When all else fails, blame the parents.
  5. Prohibiting vending machines or the classic food and drink sold in them won’t stimulate better eating habits.
    Nice try. Some documentation would be helpful here . . . or just a little common sense will do.
  6. Children who want these foods can get them elsewhere, thereby disrupting school activities, or worse, get in danger by quickly leaving the school to purchase them.
    We haven’t heard this old line for many years. (How heartening to know the vending operator’s primary concern is the safety of our students!) In schools where good food has been introduced, students arrive early to enjoy it, and prefer it to what they had previously been eating. Of course, for those students who have become addicted to high caffeine soft drinks, perhaps an emergency can of Mountain Dew could be kept in the nurse’s office!
Defying logic - dilute, distract & delay

It may seem like a simple matter to bring good food into our schools. Who can argue that the increase in childhood obesity is linked — at least in part — to the rise in junk food consumption? But in the 1950s it seemed like a simple matter to get people to quit smoking once it became obvious that cigarettes were killing them. A consortium of special interests, along with the best P.R. Money can buy, is hard at work to emulate the years of success the tobacco industry enjoyed. When a special interest is threatened the favored response is to form an alliance of groups and create an industry lobby with a name that sounds both reassuring and legitimate.



Then, go on to dilute the message of your opposition (creating your own facts when needed), and try to turn the focus elsewhere. Whenever possible, paint your opponent as a radical and yourself as a moderate voice of reason. While such tactics might not succeed in the long run, every week that reform is delayed amounts to huge financial gains.

The American Council on Fitness and Nutrition

This group was formed to lead the charge against those who would remove junk foods from our schools. It is composed primarily of industry trade groups, including:

  • National Soft Drink Association
  • Sugar Association
  • Chocolate Manufacturer Association
  • Snack Food Association
  • National Council of Chain Restaurants
  • National Confectioner Association
  • National Automatic Merchandising Association
  • Kraft Foods (owned by Philip Morris Tobacco Co.)
  • American Frozen Food Institute
  • Association of National Advertisers
  • Food Marketing Institute
  • Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • International Dairy Foods Association
  • American Association of Advertising Agencies

The American Council on Fitness and Nutrition was only one of the industry groups working to prevent the removal of junk food from schools. They are joined by: Center for Consumer Freedom (supported by restaurants and food companies) and Californians for Sensible School Nutrition Policy (soft drink, snack, and vending machine interests).

From the frying pan, into the fire

As parents and school administrator search for healthier beverages to replace soft drinks, some products now being developed are far worse. Aspartame and other synthetic sweeteners are being offered as a “healthy” replacement for the high-sugar beverages found in many school vending machines.

SINGAPORE, 20 SEP: Equal artificial sweeteners are being sold in the supermarket in Singapore on 20 September 2014. Equal contains Aspertame,Dextrose and Maltodextrin.

Dr. H. J. Roberts, director of the Palm Beach Institute for Medical Research, has written extensively about the damaging effects of synthetic sweeteners, particularly aspartame. He has issued a warning to doctors and parents.

Imminent Public Health Threat

Beverage providers now seek to substitute a plethora of ‘sugar free,’ ‘caffeine free,’ and ‘calorie free’ drinks with appealing brand names for the traditional sugar-laden varieties.


They plan to actively promote them to students and school systems, using celebrities such as professional athletes as pitchmen.

“Unfortunately, there is a major public health problem when aspartame — commonly known as NutraSweet and Equal — is the sweetening agent,” according to H.J. Roberts, MD. “Each of the components of this chemical (phenylalanine; aspartic acid; the methyl ester, which promptly becomes free methyl alcohol) and their multiple breakdown products can damage the developing brain. Aspartame-induced disorders in children include headache, confusion, convulsions, irritability, depression, intellectual deterioration, antisocial behavior, rashes, asthma and unstable diabetes. Addiction to aspartame products also has become a problem.”

For details, see his publications, particularly the 1,018-page well-documented Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic.”

Addiction to aspartame products also has become a problem.~ H.J. Roberts, MD


The company you keep

Industries like to polish their tarnished image by hanging out with good role models. Cigarette companies sponsor sporting events. Soft drink money pays for athletic equipment. And manufacturer of junk food have suddenly become advocates for physical education and “balanced diets” – but there’s no real description of what they mean by this.


football games with little boys

In the 1970s and 1980s cereal companies promoted their highly sugared products by calling them “part of a good nutritious breakfast.” The translation is: if all the rest of the food you eat is nourishing, then it’s O.K. to eat the junk we sell. Today the National Soft Drink Association’s spin is: “Soft drinks are a complement to many types of foods that together form a balanced diet.”

The industry claims:

“the average per-student consumption rate, per week, is less than one snack item, less than one candy bar, and only about 16 ounces of carbonated drinks per student, per week. We find it hard to believe that those sales could be contributing in any significant way to the problem of obesity.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the average teen drinks about 2 soft drinks a day, to equal 300 extra calories, and 2.5 additional pounds per month.

Soda, schools and money

Many school administrators believe that sacrificing student health is the price they must pay for the lucrative grants they receive from the cola giants. Maybe not.vending-machines-276171_1280

The term “pouring rights” refers to the contracts that give a soft drink company exclusive rights to stock and maintain the vending machines in a school district with their products. Because the profit on soft drinks is so high, major companies routinely offer school districts large sums of money for these contracts.

But cash-strapped school boards shouldn’t be so dazzled by this money, claims American Quality Beverages (AQB), a competing industry group. The schools can make even more money by installing and stocking their own vending machines and keeping the profits that would otherwise flow back to the cola giants.

The biggest advantage to such an arrangement, from the Feingold perspective, is that this would make it easier for schools to select healthier snack and beverages to be stocked in their vending machines.Another option, according to AQB, is for schools to contract with independent vending companies and share the profits. Schools can also force suppliers to compete for their business by refusing to sign the multi-year contracts favored by the major companies.

“The Charleston SC school district signed a five-year contract valued at $8.1 million with the Pepsi Bottling Group. Pepsi’s profit? A lot more than lunch money.”

Jim Guest, President Consumer’s Uni

How to find better choices for school vending machines

There are a variety of flavored waters and carbonated juice drinks available. Health food stores and “healthy markets” offer a selection of natural products that children and adults enjoy. Take a look at what is available there, and suggest the administrators at your school do the same.

Better food does not need to cost more, and reforming vending machines does not mean a loss of revenue.

The Vista Uizziesodanified School District in Southern California has been reforming the food in their vending machines by purchasing their own machines and filling them with healthier choices. Five years ago Vista High Schools earned about $10,000 per year from sales of junk food and now they are earning $40,000, according to nutrition director Enid Hohn. Commenting on the adult assumption that kids will eat only junk food, she comments, “We’ve really sold our kids short.”

After many hard battles, the beverage industry saw they were not going to win, so they “generously” suggested removing the machines in the elementary schools. It’s the teens who are their primary market.

Milk - that other school beverage

The dairy industry is eager to provide schools with flavored milks as they increase sales.


Nearly all schools offer flavored milk, primarily chocolate according to a 2006 report by the School Nutrition Association. About two thirds of schools also sell strawberry milk. There’s a large assortment of flavors available, including vanilla, coffee, banana, orange, dulce de leche, blue raspberry, blueberry, cookies & cream and root beer.

What’s in flavored milk?organicvalley

It’s not just the fake dyes and flavorings that are a problem for children; these drinks are loaded with sugar. An 8-ounce glass of milk contains 3 teaspoons of natural sugar (lactose), and when you add an additional 4 teaspoons of sugar or corn sweetener to flavored milk, that equals 7 teaspoons, or the same amounts that can be found in many sodas!

For the child who consumes two 8-ounce cartons of flavored milk in his school breakfast and lunch, he is getting a total of 14 teaspoons of sugar! School administrators might think they are being conscientious because they are using fat-free or 1% milk, but all that sugar offers no benefits.  Organic Valley has an all natural chocolate milk.