High-Calorie Beverages Still Widely Available in U.S. Elementary Schools


Flavored milkHigh-calorie beverages that have been disallowed by federal guidelines are still available in most U.S. elementary schools, according to a study that will appear in an upcoming issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a nationally representative survey to examine the availability of high-calorie and sugar-sweetened beverages for sale in elementary schools during lunchtime, in vending machines and snack bars, and in school stores. They also examined the types of milk available in school cafeterias: low-fat, whole-fat and flavored milks (right).

While 16.1% of students could purchase only those beverages recommended by Institute of Medicine guidelines during the 2008–2009 school year, 44.7% could purchase beverages that the guidelines frown upon. This pattern applied to both public and private school.

Most public-school students (68% to 79%) had access to higher-fat milk at lunch between 2006 and 2009—a percentage that declined last year. By the 2008–2009 school year, 31.7% of students could purchase only lower-fat milk. Unfortunately, 92.1% of students whose schools participated in the National School Lunch Program could purchase flavored milk at lunch on most days; 98.4% could buy it on some, most or all days.

The researchers commend efforts to reform school beverage menus but agree there are “many more opportunities for change.” They note: “Much work remains to be done to reduce the availability of unhealthy beverages in elementary schools in the United States, and we encourage policymakers, school officials and parents to work together to address this important issue.””

 Fast Facts

  1. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program served meals to more than 31 million students in 2008.
  2. School vending machines and snack bars should sell only bottled water, 100% juice, and nonfat or 1% milk, according to The Institute of Science and Medicine.

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  • Jessica Badger  November 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    The beverage industry has made significant advances to change the school beverage landscape. In fact, we have successfully implemented national School Beverage Guidelines, under which our member companies have removed full-calorie soft drinks from all schools and, in the case of elementary schools, may only offer bottled water, as well as low-fat milk and 100 percent juice in 8-ounce containers.

    However, the most recent data looked at by the authors of the referenced article is from the 2008-2009 school year, which fails to reflect the progress made by the School Beverage Guidelines.

    The Guidelines have resulted in an 88 percent reduction in beverage calories in school vending as of the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, with some of the greatest strides being made during the summer of 2009. Furthermore, as demonstrated in our progress report, our signatory companies are not major providers of the milk and milk products discussed in the study.

    The School Beverage Guidelines were a historic effort that was implemented in good faith as a result of a promise to change the school beverage landscape in our nation’s schools – and we delivered on our commitment. For more information, please visit http://www.ameribev.org.


    Tracey Halliday
    Vice President
    American Beverage Association

  • Clay Boggess  November 4, 2010 at 6:38 am

    Schools need to continue to work to eliminate competing vending machines as long as the students are also taught the importance of consuming healthy beverages and why other drinks may not be a good choice. This process needs to start in the home at an early age. Parents are often guilty of giving their children what they want in order to ‘pacify the moment’ instead of what they really need. Developing good exercise habits is also vitally important.

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